Buenos Aires Hours | President Fernández signs decree to speed up access to vaccines

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President Alberto Fernández on Friday signed a decree that paves the way for the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by US pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

After months of fierce criticism from the opposition over the lack of vaccines purchased from US laboratories, the government’s decision to amend Argentina’s existing vaccine law – passed by Congress last November – facilitates the arrival of mRNA vaccines made in North America.

“The decree aims to acquire pediatric vaccines and broadens the spectrum of the vaccination plan,” legal and technical secretary Vilma Ibarra confirmed on Friday at a press conference.

Such an approach is necessary “to reconcile the needs of laboratories with the interests of the nation”, added Ibarra, who specified that the text of the decree of necessity and emergency (DNU) had been drawn up following negotiations ” difficult “with laboratories. In the question.

The new standard creates a Covid-19 Repair Fund to cover compensation for anyone affected by a vaccine. Ibarra explained that this is “a mechanism that exists in many countries around the world, bringing calm to contracts”.

Regarding the immunity of state assets, state royalties and state private assets will not be immune, but all sovereign assets as defined by law to restore the viability of the state. debt will be considered sovereign.

Briefed

National government sources initially informed several news outlets on Thursday evening of the decree, saying it would amend existing legislation regulating the purchase and acquisition of Covid-19 vaccines.

Later that evening, Chief of Staff Santiago Cafiero appeared on local television, explaining why the government had resorted to a decree.

“What we are evaluating and the president has been specifically involved is whether there is a regulatory difficulty that he can resolve,” he said. Some labs “require different regulations and because of that the president is looking to solve it in a different way and move forward with these contracts.”

The presidential decree amends contentious parts of the text that have led to sticking points in negotiations with companies. Earlier reports from multiple media indicate that discussions with Pfizer, in particular, have stumbled upon the word “negligence” and its potential interpretation.

“There was an impossibility of contracting [Pfizer] within the framework of the law passed by Congress, “Ibarra said on Friday, flanked by Health Minister Carla Vizzotti.

It is still not clear why the government has taken this route now. The news emerged Thursday evening, hours after the ruling coalition bloc in the Chamber of Deputies refused to discuss an opposition bill to amend the same law.

“Pandemics do not keep up with legislative times,” proposed Ibarra, who said the decision to issue a decree was taken to avoid the “long process” of a new bill, which is expected to go through the stage. committees and debate in both chambers of Parliament. Congress.

Unblock negotiations

Ibarra said on Friday that the decree would unlock negotiations with companies including Pfizer, which got bogged down despite Argentina participating in the company’s Phase III vaccine trials with groups of volunteers. She said the government was keen to get as many doses of the vaccine as possible.

Following the decree “we want to move forward as quickly as possible in the contracts that can be signed,” said the government official.

The first reports on Thursday indicated that Casa Rosada was looking for a way to immunize children under the age of 18 who have health problems. Pfizer’s shot is the only one of its kind currently approved for 12-18 year olds, unlike Sputnik V, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca and last week at-risk youth protested outside Congress demanding access to the shots.

Vizzotti confirmed on Friday that while Pfizer is approved overseas for young people, it is not yet cleared for use on children, although she said several local studies involving adolescents and vaccines were underway. .

“We look forward to having information for children and adolescents in the short term,” said the minister.

Buenos Aires City Health Minister Fernán Quirós, commenting on the news on Friday morning, said the decree would be a positive development.

“It is very important to have access to as many and as wide a variety of vaccines as possible, so having a legal instrument that allows access to vaccines that we do not have access to today seems to be extremely relevant,” especially vaccines approved for adolescents, “he said.

Terrible moment

Signs of progress in the negotiations come at a critical time for Argentina, which is approaching 100,000 deaths and ranking among the top 15 in the world in terms of deaths per million. Unable to negotiate deals with US vaccine makers to date, Argentina has relied on a mix of Russian Sputnik V vaccine, Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, and AstraZeneca.

The government has kept strict lockdowns in place as cases and deaths increase, more recently limiting the entry of travelers on international flights to just 600 people per day.

Fernández has made it a priority for citizens to receive their first dose rather than ensuring that they are fully immunized. About 38 percent of Argentines have received one dose, while only nine percent have two, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The United States government recently stepped up donation of vaccines to Latin America and announced it will donate to Argentina as well. Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador have received US donations from Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer.

The Argentine government is also in talks with the World Bank to receive financial support for the purchase of more vaccines, it was confirmed on Friday. Earlier this week, representatives of multilateral lender and vaccine producer Moderna met with government officials to discuss legal contracts for the eventual supply of its vaccine.

Neither the Moderna vaccine nor the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has yet been approved in Argentina for emergency use.

Fernández’s government has been at odds with Pfizer for several months over a compensation clause in a law the government passed last year. Former Health Minister Ginés González García called Pfizer’s demands “unacceptable” last December, without detailing the exact problem, after the US pharmaceutical giant asked for sovereign assets to be pledged against any future lawsuit.

Leaders of the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition have widely criticized for failing to reach a deal with U.S. producers before the country’s worst wave of Covid cases arrived in April.

The existing legal framework for purchasing vaccines, which was passed by Congress in November, was approved even before vaccines were authorized, and the lessons of recent months give the government “the power to now determine whether the current framework needs to be changed, ”Cafiero said Thursday. “The president will make the decision with the need for more vaccines on his mind. “

– SCHEDULES / NA / PERFIL

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