After the federal government threatened on Monday to take legal action against the COVAX vaccine initiative for failing to supply all the COVID-19 shots it promised, the World Health Organization-backed program promptly indicated it would ship an additional 10 million doses to Mexico.
President López Obrador told his morning press conference on Tuesday that COVAX – which aims to ensure equitable vaccine distribution across the world – contacted the government on Monday and offered to send 10 million Pfizer shots to inoculate Mexican children. The offer came after López Obrador on Monday threatened to initiate legal action against the WHO initiative for not keeping its end of a US $160 million agreement.
Deputy Health Minster Hugo López-Gatell – the federal government’s coronavirus czar – said Tuesday that just over 10 million shots should arrive by September. He said the government could still take legal action if COVAX reneges on what he described as a “formal offer.”
“We don’t yet have a delivery guarantee [but] the news is positive,” López-Gatell said before stressing that “we can’t relax” until the vaccines have been “correctly delivered.”
He said that Mexico paid $160 million to COVAX to have access to up to 52 million vaccines. However, the country has only received 24 million so far. López Obrador said Monday that Mexico is owed $75 million worth of vaccines.
López-Gatell told reporters that “the access to vaccines through the COVAX mechanism has been very turbulent for Mexico,” explaining that there have been “late deliveries” and “scant clarity” about the criteria followed to allocate shots to different countries around the world.
In addition to entering into an agreement with COVAX, the federal government has purchased COVID-19 vaccines on the open market and received millions of donated doses from the United States and Canada. The Canadian government late last month sent over 3 million Pfizer shots to Mexico to inoculate children.
About three-quarters of all Mexicans (adults and children) are vaccinated with at least one shot, according to The New York Times vaccinations tracker, but López-Gatell put the figure at 81%. The government long maintained that vaccination wasn’t necessary for minors, but eventually offered shots to adolescents before extending its vaccination program to younger kids more recently.
Mexico is still amid a fifth wave of COVID infections, but López-Gatell said Tuesday that case numbers have been on the wane for six consecutive weeks. He said the country is now heading toward a “point of recess” in the pandemic, but warned that case numbers could spike as the weather becomes cooler.
Future waves of COVID could “synchronize with the cold season,” López-Gatell said, although he acknowledged that outbreaks haven’t yet become seasonal in Mexico, where the fifth wave began in the spring and extended into the summer.
“In our case we still have epidemic waves outside the cold season,” the coronavirus point man said.
“… We don’t rule out that in October, November and December there could again be an increase [in COVID cases] that means the establishment of a more regular pattern in the cold season,” he added.
Across Mexico, there are currently just over 42,000 estimated active cases, according to federal data, while the country’s accumulated tally is approaching 7 million. The official COVID-19 death toll rose to 329,103 on Monday, but that figure – like the case count – is widely believed to be a vast undercount.
López-Gatell said that COVID fatalities are trending downwards and highlighted that just 6% of general care hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients are occupied and that only 2% of those with ventilators are in use.