Several countries in the Americas have received their first vaccine shipments in recent weeks – not from the regional superpower or Western pharmaceutical giants, but from China, Russia and, in some cases, India.

Why is this important: North and South America have been battered by the pandemic and have recorded many of the highest death rates in the world. Few countries other than the United States have the capacity to manufacture vaccines on a large scale, and most do not have the resources to be in the lead for imports. This led to a rush for the available supply.

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  • Only Chile (17%), United States (15%), Barbados (12%), Canada (3%), Brazil (3%), Argentina (2%), Mexico (2 %), Costa Rica (1%) and Panama have managed to provide a first dose to at least 1% of their populations.

Driving the news: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador – who has spoken out against the ‘hoarding’ of vaccines by rich countries – was due to ask President Biden at their virtual meeting on Monday to share part of the US vaccine supply with Mexico .

  • Prior to the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mentionned the answer would be “no”, at least until all Americans have access to it.

  • Canada, which purchased more doses relative to its population than any other country but struggled to obtain them due to its limited manufacturing capacity, received a similar response from Washington.

The state of play: Other world powers have started shipping doses to the area. At least 10 Latin American countries have obtained Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine or plan to do so soon, while another 10 are awaiting doses of Sinovac or Sinopharm in China.

  • Argentina was one of the first countries in the region to begin its deployment, using Sputnik V, while Chile climbed to the top of the vaccination charts using a combination of Pfizer and Sinovac.

  • Meanwhile, most of the doses that have reached the Caribbean so far have come from India, which has emerged as a global player in vaccine distribution due to its massive manufacturing capacity. New Delhi donated doses of Oxford / AstraZeneca to countries like Barbados and Dominica.

  • Israel has embarked on a small-scale game of “vaccine diplomacy”, each sending 5,000 doses to friendly governments in Guatemala and Honduras.

  • To note: At least eight countries have signed bilateral agreements with Pfizer or AstraZeneca. Cuba, meanwhile, relies on a local vaccine.

Enlarge: As Bolivia negotiated the purchase of 5.2 million doses of Sputnik in December, at $ 10 per injection, the government was also in talks with Western pharmaceutical companies who “told us in developing countries that we had to wait. June, ”said Minister of Commerce Benjamin Blanco Reuters.

  • Bolivian President Luis Arce poked his fist on the tarmac when Sputnik’s first shipment arrived. At around the same time, he spoke to Vladimir Putin about potential joint energy projects.

  • But while Psaki warned last month that Russia and China could use vaccines to boost their influence over other countries, it was Pfizer who was accused of intimidation Latin American countries during negotiations.

Vaccines from Russia and China are often received with great fanfare, with political leaders and television cameras close at hand.

Yes, but: Often times, shipments are quite small.

  • Russia has so far provided Bolivia with 20,000 doses and Paraguay with 4,000, enough to cover a fraction of 1% of its population.

  • Russia and China will face manufacturing capacity challenges to cover their own populations, let alone send doses all over the world.

However, offers to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines in Brazil and Sputnik in Argentina are expected to boost supplies. Basically, vaccines don’t require ultra-cold temperatures.

  • Questions about efficacy remain, however, especially for Chinese vaccines. A trial in Brazil found that the Sinovac vaccine was only 50.4% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, although it was more effective in preventing severe cases.

  • And while the two countries are clearly gaining diplomatic points, several polls have shown that many in Latin America would be less willing to take a Russian or Chinese vaccine than a Western alternative.

What to watch: By this summer, the United States and other wealthy countries will likely be ready to share doses internationally, which will dramatically change the picture of vaccine diplomacy.

  • The global COVAX initiative, which is critical to the prospects for immunization in the Americas, will also begin ramping up distribution this month. It is expected to quickly overtake Russia and China as the largest source of vaccines for several countries.

The bottom line: Moscow and Beijing may have gained lasting goodwill and influence in the region by stepping in when vaccines were scarce.

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