SEATTLE, Washington — The effects of COVID-19 in Mexico and Argentina have been devastating. Similar to other Latin American countries, their ability to respond has been heavily impacted by financial instability. To ensure the region recovers from the pandemic, AstraZeneca has developed plans for COVID-19 vaccine production in the two countries.
COVID-19 in Mexico
Mexico saw a large spike in COVID-19 cases in late July, a trend that continued into late November. Although the real COVID-19 fatality rate is about 0.6%, Mexico’s death rate was 13% at the beginning of fall. This difference is often due to insufficient testing resulting in deaths making up a disproportionate amount of confirmed cases.
The government’s response to the increased COVID-19 infection rates across the country was to set up a system that categorized states into red, yellow, orange and green based on their numbers of active cases. These categories determined what restrictions to place in each region. Those with high case counts implemented a mandatory quarantine.
Effects of COVID-19 in Mexico
The reduced profit from tourism, transportation and restaurants as a result of COVID-19 has hit Mexico’s economy hard. Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography reported a 17.3% decrease in GDP. Prior to the pandemic, Mexico was already experiencing minimal growth in its GDP with half of its citizens working in jobs that did not provide social or health protections. Even now, the government’s economic response has been inadequate at providing relief to a large number of Mexican citizens who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
The healthcare system in Mexico has also taken a toll due to the pandemic. Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on human rights, reported that, in early September 2020, Mexico had the highest number of COVID-19 related deaths among healthcare workers. Statistics from late August 2020 identified that healthcare workers made up 17% of confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide. The inability of some hospitals to access personal protective equipment (PPE) has led to heightened transmission among medical staff.
COVID-19 in Argentina
Argentina has experienced a steady increase in COVID-19 cases, reaching levels of 13,000 cases per day in early September. In that same time period, the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests increased to 55%. Similar to Mexico, this high test positivity rate is indicative of inadequate testing and undercounting of cases.
Early in March, the government instituted a nationwide lockdown. Additionally, the government determined that easing restrictions would depend on the speed of contagion. This means that the time it took for confirmed cases to double would determine how soon restrictions could be lifted. In the few months before September, 90% of Argentina’s COVID-19 cases were localized in and around Buenos Aires. In late August and early September, the country’s other provinces began to account for a growing number of confirmed cases. As cases grew, the government implemented new restrictions and the lockdown was further extended.
Prior to the pandemic, Argentina had an inflation rate of 50% with more than one-third of its population living in poverty. Post-pandemic statistics saw the GDP further decrease by 20% in the first six months of 2020. To respond to the economic crisis, the government is providing financial support to low-income families. Meanwhile, it is also regulating food and medicine prices and increasing lending to smaller businesses.
In terms of Argentina’s healthcare system, the president of the Argentine Society for Intensive Therapy had previously warned that it was in a precarious situation. Staffing levels in intensive care units were critically low and capacity was much less than what was needed. She also expressed frustration towards the poor communication and information throughout the country about the severity of the COVID-19 situation.
A Vaccine for COVID-19 in Mexico and Argentina
With similar economic and health consequences from COVID-19 in Mexico and Argentina, the two countries have partnered with each other for the production of the AstraZeneca vaccine. They plan to manufacture 150 million vaccine doses for the entirety of Latin America. Argentine president Alberto Fernández stated that this plan would “allow timely and efficient access for all countries in the region.” Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has already argued that equal access to future COVID-19 treatments should be available to all countries. He declared that a future vaccine would be free of charge and accessible to all citizens of Mexico.
As the effects of COVID-19 in Mexico and Argentina have been similar, the leaders of both countries have pushed to ensure Latin America will not be left out of future COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Argentina plans to produce the active material in the vaccine and Mexico will handle the final stages in its Biomont Laboratory which has the capacity to produce 35 million doses per month.
The devastation of COVID-19 in Mexico and Argentina will have long-lasting impacts on both of their healthcare systems and economies. As with other Latin American countries, they have struggled with limited resources and financial instability. The goal of vaccine production in Mexico and Argentina is to provide Latin America, as one of the regions most heavily impacted by COVID-19, with access to future treatment.
– Ann Marie Vanderveen