Mayors complain about the lack of Covid vaccines, demand the right for cities to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies

Feb 22, 2021 | 3 comments

Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios has asked the national government to allow Cuenca to buy Covid-19 vaccines directly from the manufacturers, claiming the city is being short-changed in the number of doses it is receiving based on population. His request follows those of Guayaquil Mayor Cynthia Viteri and Quito Mayor Jorge Yunda, who have similar objections to the national vaccine distribution plan.

Health experts say that local governments should stay out of the business of vaccine procurement.

In addition to complaints about the number of doses earmarked for their cities, Palacios and Viteri claim the national government is not doing enough to acquire the supply needed to vaccinate the country’s citizens. “We have maintained contact with Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer for the purchase of additional doses but we need the government’s permission to move forward,” says Palacios. “I consider it my obligation to protect the citizens of Cuenca and I am unable to do this under the current rules.”

Viteri claims the Ministry of Health is doing “a terrible job” in its acquisition efforts. “They bragged last week about receiving 16,000 new doses but this is nothing. Then they announced the country will only receive 42,000 doses for the entire month of February after promising 85,000. It is time they allow local government to purchase their own vaccines since their efforts have been a failure.”

Public health experts disagree with the mayors and say the acquisition of vaccines should continue to be coordinated at the national level. “It is a terrible idea that different municipalities make their own purchases,” says Edgar Ramos, former health ministry regional director. “In the first place, it won’t work – local governments will have no more success, and probably much less, in purchasing doses than the national government. Second, it would be grossly unfair for smaller and poorer communities to receive vaccines after cities like Cuenca and Guayaquil.”

According to Ramos, the officials at the health ministry have been talking to vaccine manufacturers for months and have established relationships for the fastest delivery possible. “If they have been following the media, the mayors are aware that poor and developing countries like Ecuador have been put at the back of the line in terms of vaccines. The rich countries are at the front of the line,” he says. “Rich countries like the U.S., European Union members, Israel and Saudi Arabia have the economic power to inoculate their citizens ahead of the rest of the world.”

“It is unfair and in violation of the agreement the United Nations negotiated with countries during the vaccine development process but, unfortunately, it is the way of the world,” he says.”

Ramos adds: “The mayors are in a better position to purchase street lights and manhole covers than the health ministry but they should stay out of the vaccine procurement business.”

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