By Eliana Raszewski
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina and Mexico will produce the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for most of Latin America, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said on Wednesday after a meeting with company executives involved in the project.
An agreement signed between British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the biotechnology company mAbxience of the INSUD Group includes transfer of technology to initially produce 150 million doses of the vaccine to supply all of Latin America with the exception of Brazil, the Argentine government said.
"Latin American production will be handled in Argentina and Mexico and that will allow timely and efficient access for all countries in the region," Fernandez said.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said later on Twitter that the deal had been pushed by Fernandez and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He said output of the vaccine could extend to 250 million doses.
AstraZeneca, Britain's second-largest drugmaker, has long operations in Argentina. The company signed a deal with the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim for production of the vaccine, which is expected to be delivered in the first half of 2021, pending Phase III studies and regulatory approvals.
Mexico would provide more details on Thursday, said Ebrard, who thanked the Slim foundation for financing production.
Arturo Elias, Slim's spokesman, said a "very significant" sum was being invested in the scheme, without giving a figure.
"There's a major economic commitment regardless of whether the vaccine works," he told Reuters, noting that the foundation would start work immediately.
Fernandez said the deal "gives Argentina the peace of mind of being able to have the vaccine when required and at a reasonable price."
Argentina, which has passed 5,000 coronavirus fatalities, posted a record daily number of COVID-19 infections on Wednesday with 7,663 new cases. Mexico has registered nearly 55,000 deaths and almost half a million cases.
(Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Additional reporting by Noe Torres in Mexico City; Editing by Leslie Adler and Stephen Coates)