SIM Report: Latin America & the Caribbean, Issue 9

Latin America: Uptake of non-Western COVID-19 vaccines highlights growing Chinese and Russian regional influence

Countries across Latin America have received batches of coronavirus vaccines from China and Russia in the first two months of the year, highlighting an emerging trend of increased Chinese and Russian influence across the region amid a global scramble for coronavirus inoculations. Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru have all ordered Chinese-made vaccines, while authorities in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Venezuela have purchased Russia’s Sputnik V jab. Many of the region’s other countries have chosen to purchase US- and UK-made vaccines, including Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. Several countries, including Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil, have diversified vaccine portfolios containing both Western-made vaccines and those produced by China and Russia (see table below).

CanSino (China)

Sinovac (China)

Sinopharm (China)

Sputnik V (Russia)

Oxford-AstraZeneca (UK)

Pfizer-BioNTech (US/Germany)

Mexico

Brazil

Chile

Colombia

Mexico

Uruguay

Argentina

Peru

Argentina

Bolivia

Mexico

Nicaragua

Paraguay

Venezuela

Argentina

Bolivia

Brazil

Chile

Dominican Republic

Ecuador

El Salvador

Guatemala

Mexico

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Ecuador

Mexico

Panama

Peru

Uruguay

Latin American countries’ vaccine take-up. Data from 23 February 2021

The region’s uptake of non-Western vaccines reflects the diverse diplomatic and economic realities of Latin American countries and contrasts with the region’s longstanding perceived closeness to the US. The region’s orders for non-Western vaccines have primarily come from countries with either close trading ties to China, such as Brazil, Chile, and Peru, or alternatively countries with leftist governments, which have largely sought to secure Russian-made jabs. Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, and Venezuela and are examples of countries with leftist governments who have ordered Sputnik V jabs. Countries traditionally allied with the US, such as Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama, however, have largely focused procurement efforts on US- and UK-made vaccines. Broadly, the region’s wealthier countries have either uniquely sought US- or UK-made vaccines, such as Panama and Costa Rica, or opted for diversified portfolios, as evidenced by Mexico, Brazil, and Chile.

Beyond political and economic considerations, Latin American demand for non-Western vaccines is also linked to intense competition for and shortages of Western-made inoculations, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Countries and regions globally have reported delays to vaccine delivery schedules, as evidenced by the disruption to the EU’s supply of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as Canada’s delayed deliveries of batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Latin America’s purchases of Chinese- and Russian-made vaccines, moreover, also reflect their reduced costs vis-à-vis most Western competitors. Russia, for example, has announced that its Sputnik V vaccine would be sold internationally at less than USD10 per dose, approximately half the reported price of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna jabs. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, however, is reportedly priced at around USD4 per dose.

Latin America’s rollout of Chinese- and Russian-made vaccines is unlike other world regions, where non-Western vaccines have seen lower demand. Of the EU’s 27 member states, for example, only Hungary has begun using Sputnik V, while it has also purchased enough doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab to vaccinate 2.5 million people. Across the US and Canada, meanwhile, authorities have expressed little interest in approving or ordering Chinese- and Russian-made vaccines. In addition to the financial and reputational incentives associated with supplying Latin America with coronavirus vaccines, China and Russia are also likely seeking to build their influence in the western hemisphere for geopolitical purposes. Authorities in Beijing and Moscow are likely to hope that their growing influence in the region leads to greater diplomatic and commercial opportunities for their respective countries in the region.

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