The Ecuadorian government said Thursday it had negotiated the purchase of two million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac, which would allow authorities to start a mass inoculation process in the coming weeks.
The announcement came less than 12 hours before Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos resigned from his position in the face of an investigation by the National Assembly about his handling of the country’s vaccination roll-out.
Ecuador began a pilot phase of vaccinations in January with doses of the Pfizer vaccine for medical personnel and elderly people in nursing homes, but has had delays in acquiring more doses.
Zevallos, who announced the Sinovac purchase, was criticized for having his 87-year-old mother vaccinated, as well as himself, early in the month.
In his Thursday announcement of the Sinovac deal, he said, “One million will arrive in March and another shipment will arrive in April.” With the Sinovac vaccines, the government now expects to receive around 20 million doses this year, enough to immunize 60% of the population over 18 years of age.
The minister said that in February, about 34,000 doses of Pfizer will also arrive, and starting in April, another 290,000 will arrive from the COVAX initiative, a program led by the World Health Organization (WHO). About 780,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are slated to arrive in May as part of a bilateral negotiation.
Zevallos said that the deliveries mean that all of the country’s vulnerable populations will be vaccinated before June.
Some private health experts questioned the Sinovac purchase, citing comments on Tuesday by President Lenin Moreno who said Ecuador would not accept the Russian Sputnik vaccine because it has not been approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Sinovac has also not received CDC approval and its trial data has undergone less review than Sputnik’s.
Chinese scientists report that Sinovac is 65 percent effective against mild and moderate cases of Covid-19 and 100 percent effective against cases requiring hospitalization and death. The numbers are similar those reported by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, recently approved for use in the U.S.
Moreno accepted Zevallos resignation, reluctantly. “His work will save hundreds of thousands of lives in Ecuador and it is with great regret that he is leaving public service,” Moreno said.