Although the Government of Peru has talks with Sinopharm for the supply of 38 million units of its vaccine against Covid-19, the deal has not yet been closed for the receipt of most of it. In parallel, the South American country is going through a strong second wave of infections and deaths.
The Peruvian State awaits the delivery of a first batch of vaccines from the Sinopharm laboratory to start immunization against Covid-19. However, at the moment there are only a few certainties: the shipment – scheduled between the end of this month and the beginning of February – is only one million doses and this will be destined, as a priority, to health personnel and other groups that attend the health emergency.
Although the Government of Francisco Sagasti announced on January 6 the acquisition of another 37 million units of the Chinese formula, it is unknown when this remainder will be obtained. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Elizabeth Astete, clarified days later –in RPP– that the purchase of the total has not yet been finalized.
Meanwhile, the country is once again approaching record numbers of infections and deaths. In the middle of the second wave, recognized by the Ministry of Health, the health sector registered -only in the 24 hours of January 19- 3406 positive diagnoses and 113 deaths. Last weekend, human losses also surpassed 100; official numbers that were not reported since September 2020.
The dates of the first million are not exact
On January 19, the Ministry of Health published the agreement that guarantees air transport of the advertised lot. According to the document, it is a donation of the service by the association Soluciones Empresariales contra la Pobreza.
The transfer will be made from Beijing (China) to the warehouse of the National Center for Supply of Strategic Resources in Health – CENARES, a decentralized body of the Peruvian Ministry of Health. Although the quantity of a million doses is specified, arranged in 1,667 boxes, a date of the flight is not noticed.
In an interview with France 24, the executive director of the Coordination Secretariat of the National Health Council of the Minsa of Peru, Nancy Olivares MarcosHe explained that the expectation is that the vaccine will arrive at the end of January.
“I do not want to put exact dates because that creates a lot of uncertainty in people. Let’s say it will be at the end of January. We are already planning to start the vaccination for the month of February, immediately after the vaccines arrive. What I can also tell you is that we are running fast to make that happen, ”said the doctor.
Olivares explains that CENARES will be able to cold store 12 million vaccines and extend capacity for 20 million more. At the same time, he assures that the Minsa is prepared to apply the formula to the 500 thousand beneficiaries of that first batch of one million Sinopharm vaccines. It will be only 500 thousand because each one will receive two doses.
It should be remembered that on October 20, 2020, the health sector had issued the “National Vaccination Plan against Covid-19”. In this ministerial resolution, three phases for immunization are classified.
The first phase prioritizes as vaccine recipients all health personnel -public and private-, the personnel of the Armed and Police Forces, firefighters, the Red Cross, security and public cleaning personnel, health students, and board members. electoral (for the general elections of April 2020).
“In that sense, that first batch of vaccines is specifically intended for health personnel, which is public, private, healthcare and administrative,” said the official. Asked if the coverage will be sufficient for all health personnel, Olivares replied: “probably, no one will be relegated.”
The second stage envisaged by the National Vaccination Plan includes adults over 60 years of age and over, people with comorbidities, the population of native or indigenous communities, personnel of the National Penitentiary Institute and people held in the country’s prisons. For the third phase, it is estimated to vaccinate people who do not correspond to the groups already indicated and who only meet the age range of 18 to 59 years. However, the availability of the vaccine will mark the realization of each stage.
Clinical trials in Peru
During his message to the Nation in early January, President Francisco Sagasti also reported on a contract with the AstraZeneca laboratory for 14 million vaccines. However, the dates of obtaining are even less precise. According to the president, the acquisition is expected to take place from September this year. In addition, confirmation of another agreement with the multilateral Covax Facility for the additional shipment of some 13 million doses is still pending.
In Peru, Phase III clinical studies with the Sinopharm vaccine had already begun since September 8, 2020. The trials are led by groups of researchers from the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia (UPCH) and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos ( UNMSM).
France 24 interviewed German Malaga Rodriguez, Principal Investigator of the UPCH, to know the scope of the analysis. The doctor specified that 12 thousand volunteers have participated: some received the vaccine and others the placebo.
“In total, we have worked together more than 500 people for these studies; between physicians, researchers, logistics personnel, and volunteer monitors. We have assisted around 500 volunteers a day to achieve the goal of covering 12 thousand vaccinated. We have not had any significant cases of side effects from the vaccine. All cases [de efectos adversos] they have been less than 10% and of low intensity. But they are mild symptoms that are not different from those produced by vaccines for other diseases, ”said Málaga.
We asked the doctor about the amount of vaccines the country would need to really get an immunization. This, in relation to the limited first batch of one million doses that the Government would receive in the coming weeks. The specialist recognizes that what is recommended is a continuous supply of the formula and not so much spaced between dates and subgroups. It is worth bearing in mind that, between the first and second dose per person, more than 20 days elapse.
“It would do very little. With the second wave, we have to consider the need for a significant number of vaccines. What we must bear in mind is that the second or third waves already registered by several countries -among them, Peru- end only if 70% or more of the population is immunized with the vaccine. It has already been shown that the so-called herd immunity is a mirage and it only gave peace of mind for a few months, as in Iquitos, ”he said.
The Malaga team estimates that, in about four or five weeks, they will have the results on the effectiveness of the formula that was applied to the volunteers in Peru. This level is expected to be 79%.
Critical situations amid prejudice towards the vaccine
A El Comercio-Ipsos survey In the last week, he noticed an increase in citizen rejection of vaccines. Of a sample of 1,210 interviewed nationwide, 48% responded that they will not be vaccinated. Just a few months earlier, in August 2020, the rejection was 22%. More than half of people said they do not trust the formula because its side effects would not be known. Another group said that, with the speed of the studies, “mistakes must have been made.” A third group pointed out that the countries where vaccines are developed do not generate confidence.
Manuel Loayza Alarico, former director of the National Center for Epidemiology, Prevention and Control of the Peruvian Ministry of Health, explained to France 24 that – in addition to ensuring the arrival of enough vaccines and correctly managing the logistics for national immunization – the State has a very strong communicational responsibility.
“We are clear that the only way to guarantee that Covid-19 decreases in the country is that the majority of the population is vaccinated. If people don’t grasp the importance of getting vaccinated or mistrust the formulas, we are going to have lots of disuse. One component that the State must take into account is to communicate effectively about the benefits and contribution of the vaccine to health. Unfortunately, it is very easy for people to pay more attention to fake news or the chains of disinformation that are in social networks. That has to be fought by the Government ”, said the epidemiologist.
Loayza, who is a member of the Institute for Research in Biomedical Sciences (INICIB) of the Ricardo Palma University, told this medium that the communication strategy should be prioritized soon, taking into account that the vaccination process requires a double dose per person.
“If it were a dose, it would be less complex. But it is enough for people to value some fortuitous event or some misinformation so that they do not want to continue with the second dose and the whole process falls apart. It’s a risk. There, monitoring of each patient and an adequate communication campaign will be essential ”, the specialist warned.
Peru registered its highest peaks in deaths and infections from Covid-19 between July and August 2020. In the following months, the figures were progressively reduced, reaching a base of less than 50 deaths, according to the Minsa. However, the country has faced a rapid increase in cases since mid-December, adding to the presence of the new variant of the virus.
As we have previously reported, the amounts exposed by the central government differ of those managed by health departments in each Peruvian region. At the end of this text, the official accountant already marked a total of 39,157 deaths and 1,078,675 confirmed cases so far in the pandemic.