Mexico looks for U.S. help as AstraZeneca admits Latin American vaccine delay

By Dave Graham and Adriana Barrera

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday the United States would probably send his country 5 million more doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, as the company admitted production in Latin American had suffered multiple setbacks.

Mexico is struggling with behind-schedule local AstraZeneca production and shortfalls in deliveries from foreign suppliers and has asked the United States to help with more vaccines. The request is in addition to some 2.7 million AstraZeneca doses Washington sent to Mexico in March.

"It's probable that they'll help us with a loan, while the AstraZeneca plant in Mexico gets up and running," Lopez Obrador said at a regular news conference.

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

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Under a deal reached last year, the mAbxience laboratory in Argentina manufactures the active ingredient of the vaccine and ships it for bottling to a factory in Mexico owned by a company called Liomont. The shots are to be delivered across Latin America, excluding Brazil, which has a separate production deal.

Argentina has delivered cargos of the active ingredient to Mexico, but Liomont's commercial production has slipped from an original target of March. In a statement shared with Reuters on Friday, AstraZeneca said deliveries of the shots would now begin before the end of June.

AstraZeneca said it regretted the setbacks, which it attributed to limited access to critical supplies, lower-than-expected process yields from initial vaccine batches, and longer times to meet internal "site qualifications" for those batches.

"This will delay the launch of our vaccine in countries across Latin America to be supplied from this supply chain," AstraZeneca said, without giving more details of what had caused the problems.

The Mexican government has said the Liomont factory has undergone major upgrades to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine, and that it has taken longer than expected for the factory to win regulatory approvals.

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Liomont referred a request for comment to AstraZeneca.

An additional site in the United States will help meet the target of 150 million doses for the region, excluding Brazil, this year, AstraZeneca said, but 80% of the shots will still be bottled at the Mexico plant.

The problems have affected vaccination programs in the region. Argentina's government this week formally requested a report on production from AstraZeneca.

In Mexico, the problems have been compounded by deliveries of far fewer Sputnik V doses from Russia than had been agreed, and lower volumes than expected of Pfizer Inc's coronavirus vaccines.

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Reuters reported on Thursday that Pfizer will ship doses made in its U.S. plant to Mexico for the first time.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

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