Concerns mount about Ecuador’s vaccine schedule as trial of health minister interferes with acquisitions
Some of Ecuador’s top medical professionals say they are worried that the country’s Covid-19 vaccination program is collapsing. “It appeared there was some progress in December and early January for arranging delivery of vaccines for the most vulnerable populations but I’m worried that these efforts are stalled,” says Pedro Iglesias, former deputy health minister.
“So far, we have vaccinated less than 4,000 people and the Ministry [of Health] says it is expecting enough doses for 43,000 more by the end of the month, which only accommodates a small fraction of medical care professionals. We are facing a very big problem,” he says.
Claire Muslin, a biomedical research professor at the University of Las Américas-Quito is even more blunt. “It looks like a disaster as far as I can see,” she says. “There is almost no progress in the acquisition of a sufficient supply of doses and little effort beyond the Pfizer and Moderna. Even Venezuela and Bolivia are ahead of us in this respect.”
Muslin says that politics are making matters worse. “The National Assembly’s effort to fire [Health Minister Juan Carlos] Zevallos comes at a terrible time. Yes, he should not have vaccinated his old mother first but this is minor transgression, not one that requires his termination when he is the one leading negotiations for more doses. If he loses his job, I’m afraid there will be very little acquisition effort made before the new government takes office in May.”
She adds that Ecuador should be following the lead of other Latin American countries to consider the Russian and Chinese vaccines. “Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Mexico are already making delivery arrangements as I understand it while Ecuador is not. The tests of the vaccines show them to be very effective, almost equal to Moderna and Pfizer. We should be considering them.”
Even under the best of circumstances, Iglesias says that poorer countries, like Ecuador, will receive vaccines at a much slower rate than European and North American countries. “Those countries contributed billions of research dollars and placed huge orders during the vaccine development process so obviously, they are at the front of the line. This just makes it more crucial that we are aggressive in pursuing our claim.”
He says he has no answer when his elderly parents ask when they can get vaccinated. “They are in their 80s with complicating conditions but I can only tell them the truth, that it will probably be late this year or even early 2022 before they can receive their shots.”