MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The packaging and distribution of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Mexico had been held up due to a complex certification process that led to major changes at a factory, Mexico’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Mexico had not finished producing doses of the vaccine from the shipments of active ingredient that already arrived to the country because its health regulator had to first inspect a local lab and certify that the batches were pure and without defects, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.
He said COFEPRIS, the regulator, had made 185 “observations” during a visit to local manufacturer Laboratorios Liomont, which previously made flu jabs and is expected to start shipping the doses by early April.
“They almost had to make another factory,” Ebrard, speaking at a regular government news conference, said about Liomont. “You are talking about health, life … so you do have to be very strict in any medicine, with a vaccine more, and even more when the vaccine is so recent.”
In partnership with the Mexican and Argentinean governments, AstraZeneca plans to produce millions of doses of the vaccine, developed with Oxford University, for distribution throughout the region. The plan has significant funding from the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
Liomont and a spokesperson for Mexico’s health ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mexico has received at least two shipments of the vaccine’s active ingredient, which were to be packaged locally for about seven million doses that are not yet ready, according to government data.
Looking to speed up its vaccine campaign, which is now focused on older adults, Mexico also imported on Sunday the first 870,000 doses of a planned two million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India.
Shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine also restarted after global delays, with a flight landing on Tuesday in Monterrey and another due later in capital Mexico City. The government said Tuesday’s shipments would provide about 494,000 doses.
Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez would visit Liomont’s plant during an upcoming trip to Mexico, Ebrard said.
(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, additional reporting by Adriana Barrera, writing by Cassandra Garrison; editing by David Evans)