“Latin American countries will vie for vaccines and medical supplies regardless of where they come from,” said Parsifal D’Sola, the founder and CEO of the Andres Bello Foundation, a think tank devoted to Chinese-Latin American relationships. “So far, developed nations have bought over 50% of the available vaccines, so Latin America will likely reach out to China and Russia to fill the void.”
The Coronavac, made by Chinese company Sinovac, is already part of large-scale distribution in Brazil. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines has been embraced by several countries including Argentina and Bolivia. But broadly, regional delivery of vaccines is messy and unequal with no coordinated approach, and it remains to be seen how the pandemic could shape future diplomatic relationship between South America and the rest of the world.
As Cynthia Sanborn, Director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center policy forum in Washington, told CNN, South American countries “have rarely been so disunited and unable to forge common strategies.”
Here’s where their vaccination campaigns stand for now:
In December, flag-carrier Aerolineas Argentinas live-tweeted a special flight to Moscow to pick up the first doses, a sign of how close the partnership with Russia is seen in Buenos Aires.
Argentina has also secured orders from other manufacturers for a total of almost 50 million doses, according to Duke University’s database of vaccine pre-purchase agreements.
All the vaccines dispensed so far have been from Russia.
Compared to its neighbors, Brazil has strong vaccine manufacturing capabilities. However, experts say the country fell behind in the race to purchase active ingredients to produce them.
While he awaits the first COVAX doses allotted to Bolivia, Arce has been able to secure at least 20,000 Russian vaccine doses, which arrived in Bolivia on January 28.
The purchase signals closer relationships with both Russia and Argentina, where President Fernandez is a close ally of Arce’s and his predecessor Evo Morales.
Public data from Duke University show that Chile pre-purchased vaccines from Western manufacturers AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, but the greatest order was placed for China’s Coronavac. China is already Chile’s top economic partner.
Despite ordering over 90 million vaccine doses for a population of less than 20 million people, Chile’s vaccination program has yet to pick up steam. Fewer than 70,000 people have been vaccinated so far.
Colombia is the largest South American country that still has not commenced vaccinations.
President Ivan Duque responded to critics saying the country relied mostly on the COVAX mechanism and promising that vaccinations will begin on February 20.
Colombia, the United States’ closest ally in the region, did not purchase vaccines directly from either Russia but recently announced a small purchase of the Chinese-made Coronavac.
Last month, this Andean country began its vaccination program using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Like other nations in the region, it is eagerly awaiting for the COVAX mechanism to start delivering doses.
Guyana and Suriname
Neither has begun vaccinating — but the impact of the pandemic has been minor, with less than 10 thousand cases in each of them.
Both are due to receive doses through COVAX.
The only landlocked country in South America is a case study for vaccine diplomacy.
Paraguay doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Beijing, and has recognized Taiwan — which is claimed by China — as the legitimate Republic of China.
Last year, a group of lawmakers presented a motion to the Senate to switch recognition in Beijing’s favor, in hopes of receiving more medical supplies to curb the pandemic. The vote did not pass.
Paraguay has yet to receive a single dose of the vaccine, but it awaits more than 4 million doses through COVAX.
Like neighbouring Colombia, Peru hasn’t received any doses yet. Both countries expect to be among the first that will receive vaccines from COVAX, but Peru has also tapped into China’s Sinopharm vaccine to boost its arsenal.
In total, Peru is expecting over 50 million doses, in part thanks to the vaccine trials it held last year to provide precious data to manufacturers.
One of the smallest countries in the region, Uruguay has already commenced vaccinations.
President Lacalle Pou has deplored what he called “an impressive commercial war” around the vaccines.
On paper, Venezuela is the South American country least affected by the pandemic.
Maduro announced Venezuela would receive vaccines from its traditional allies Russia and China as early as October, but no vaccination campaign has been set up yet.
Maduro has also been hoping to receive the Cuban vaccine Soberana 01, which is still under development.
In January, Venezuela was blocked from joining COVAX due to lack of payments, according to the Pan American Health Organization.