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AstraZeneca says could begin COVID-19 vaccine production early in 2021

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a sign at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014. (REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo)

BY RAUL CORTES AND DAINA BETH SOLOMON

Production of a COVID-19 vaccine under an agreement between the Mexican and Argentine governments and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca <AZN.L> could begin in the first quarter of 2021, an AstraZeneca executive said on Thursday.

Sylvia Varela, head of AstraZeneca Mexico, said at the Mexican president’s daily news conference that Phase III trials were expected to conclude by November or December.

The company plans to initially produce 150 million doses for distribution in Latin America, and eventually make at least 400 million doses for the region, she added.

“We’ll be prioritizing the vulnerable populations,” she said, noting that the cost, while still not final, was not expected to exceed $4 per dose.

Argentina’s president first announced the agreement with Mexico and AstraZeneca, Britain’s second-largest drugmaker, on Wednesday. He said the initial supply aimed to reach all of Latin America except Brazil, aided by investment from the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

A spokesman for Slim said the total investment outlay would be significant, without giving a number.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hailed the agreement as “good news” for Mexico. He said he expected the country to still be suffering from the pandemic by the time the vaccine becomes available early next year.

Mexico has registered nearly 55,000 deaths and almost half a million cases, while the death toll in Latin America as a whole is now close to 230,000.

After securing government approvals, Varela said, AstraZeneca plans to transfer technology to Argentina’s INSUD Group and Mexico’s Laboratorios Liomont at the end of the year, before moving on to production.

The active substance in the vaccine will be made in Argentina and sent to Mexico to be completed for distribution, she said.

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