MEXICO CITY - Days after Mexico became the fourth country to reach the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard claimed that the country could be on the verge of being one of the first to administer the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine will now be reviewed for potential approval by Mexico's Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (COFEPRIS).
“Pfizer - if approved by COFEPRIS - will arrive in Mexico in December of this year,” tweeted Ebrard.
He added that trials of other vaccines are also advancing. CanSino, being developed in China, is in phase III with 15 thousand volunteers, and AstraZeneca Oxford is beginning production.
“Dr. Alcocer already has an operational vaccination plan,” said Ebrard.
Ebrard’s tweet appeared to be an endorsement of the beleaguered Secretary of Health, Dr. Jorge Alcocer, after Mexico's conservative opposition National Action Party (PAN) filed a petition for his impeachment, alleging "gross negligence" related to the coronavirus pandemic.
While Ebrard’s announcement exuded optimism around Dr. Alcocer and general access to a free vaccine promised by the federal government, local experts weren't impressed.
"Having a vaccine, and having a population vaccinated, are two different things," said Dr. Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie, the head of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Mexico doesn't have the infrastructure to administer the Pfizer vaccine on a large scale because of a lack of the necessary freezer equipment necessary. The vaccine requires cold temperatures, especially in its public hospitals, opined Ximénez-Fyvie. She thinks that even if the vaccine does arrive in December, most likely only expensive private hospitals and large corporations who independently own huge freezers would receive Pfizer, leaving the majority of Mexicans without access.
Instead, most of the population will have to wait for the AstraZeneca vaccine that will be partially produced in Mexico and doesn't have the same heat restrictions, or the Chinese CanSino vaccine that is in phase III trials if they expect free vaccination. Both will not be ready until some time in 2021.
Ximénez-Fyvie called Ebrard's statement "political rhetoric, with no basis on the evidence," and estimated that a vaccinated Mexican population, or around 70% of immunized citizens, probably isn't likely until the second or third trimester of 2021.
After Ebrard's tweet, Mexico's top coronavirus czar, Hugo López-Gatell held a press conference and was also measured in his enthusiasm. He stressed that all vaccines needed to be approved by Mexican health authorities and go through all proper legal requirements before vaccines will be made available to the general public.
"Let's not claim victory in advance, but neither are we pessimistic,” said López-Gatell.
“We must maintain a measured attitude that is based on specific expert knowledge, and considering that we are seeking to facilitate having vaccines as soon as possible."