Mexico might allow private firms to buy, distribute vaccines

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A health worker extracts a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the military base in Queretaro, Mexico, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020. The first batches of vaccines produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech arrived to Mexico the previous day. (AP Photo/Ginnette Riquelme)

MEXICO CITY – Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday he is not opposed to private companies buying coronavirus vaccines to distribute to patients who want to pay for the shots.

But he noted there isn’t much existing supply and warned companies not to try to buy vaccines already promised to the Mexican government.

“We are not opposed to commercializing the vaccine, to companies importing it and selling it to those who can pay,” López Obrador said. “The catch is the supply of vaccines in the world markets, because there still isn't enough production."

“We would be opposed if the ones we have under contract were to be given to a private company, that we would not permit and we would file a complaint,” he said.

Mexico's medical safety commission must grant approval for any vaccine. López Obrador said no company has yet applied to import vaccines privately.

But the issue is already clearly in the public arena, and experts have warned that fakes, frauds and thefts may start popping up amid the public's desperation to get a vaccine.

Wal-Mart de Mexico, the nation's largest retailer, had to issue a statement Monday denying a photo ad circulating online that depicts a coronavirus “vaccine” supposedly available for about $20.

“We are making clear that the information circulating on social media regarding a supposed supply of COVID-19 vaccine in our Mexico stores is false,” said a statement posted on the company's Twitter account.

López Obrador has been criticized by some in Mexico for centralizing vaccine purchases and distribution and for putting the effort — like many programs in his administration — in the hands of the military.

He says the military is best-equipped to manage the security and refrigeration chain some vaccines require.

The president has promised that vaccines will be free and available to everyone in Mexico, but so far the country has only received around 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. To vaccinate 1.4 million health-care workers — the first in line to get the shots — Mexico would need 2.8 million doses.

The government is placing hopes on three vaccines now in or entering Phase 3 trials in Mexico. It announced that Novavax Inc. will be conducting part of its testing in Mexico. China's CanSino and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceutical business have also been conducting trials in Mexico.