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This is Mexico’s search for a homemade vaccine against the coronavirus

This is the inside of the trial of a Chinese vaccine 3:58

. – The small glass containers resemble the ranks of soldiers in an infantry division, perfectly lined up shoulder to shoulder, as they slowly advance towards a huge processing machine; each will contain a dose of a vaccine, the weapon of choice in the battle against coronavirus.

Thousands of these containers, called ampoules, are already being classified, labeled and prepared to be shipped every hour in a simulated production of a national vaccine developed by Mexicans, right here in Mexico.

These are the tests of a production line of the vaccine against covid-19 in Mexico City, which recently was given exclusive access to CNN. The blisters we saw were only filled with water. But if all goes according to plan, officials hope to produce millions of doses of vaccines this way by the end of 2021.

For Mexico, developing its own vaccine is not just a public health issue. While the first vaccines will be produced much sooner by some of the richest countries in the world, a domestically produced vaccine is Mexico’s fail-safe piece – your best bet to ensure that if vaccine supplies from other countries prove successful. difficult to obtain, its roughly 130 million citizens will still be protected.

A three-way plan in Mexico

The Mexican government is fully aware that, at least to begin with, any widespread vaccination campaign will have to rely on vaccines developed abroad.

Consequently, its Foreign Ministry has taken an aggressive stance in proactively trying to secure up to 116 million doses of vaccines from outside the country.

First, it says that 25.2 million of those doses will come from agreements that Mexico has secured within the COVAX program, the WHO-backed initiative that aims to secure vaccines for developing countries.

Second, purchase deals of up to 90.9 million doses have also been secured with vaccine producers, specifically with the UK-based AstraZeneca, CanSinoBIO of China and Pfizer of the US, which recently announced that your vaccine is more than 90 percent effective.

“That is why international cooperation has this interesting role at this time because we do not feel alone,” Martha Delgado Peralta, Mexico’s undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, told CNN. «We are looking for an asset that does not yet exist, that everyone wants … which is about quality of life. It’s a very, very hard thing to do.

Mexico has a reasonably well-developed public health system and extensive immunology expertise, and is hosting a series of phase 3 trials in the country for internationally developed vaccines. While technically that shouldn’t influence your ability to purchase those vaccines, it certainly doesn’t hurt to build goodwill.

So far, Mexico has been successful in securing promises of access to future vaccines, officials say.

But the first round of vaccines will be the world’s most sought-after products. And an initial round of purchase agreements does not protect the population in the long term against the virus.

“We are at high risk if we cannot find a solution that can be permanent in the near future,” said Delgado Peralta.

This is where the third point comes in: a nationally developed vaccine.

A homemade vaccine

At least half a dozen trials of vaccines developed in the country are currently being carried out in Mexico.

CNN gained exclusive access to one of those essays in its early stages on the sprawling campus of the prestigious National Autonomous University (UNAM) in Mexico City.

The principal investigators, Edda Sciutto and Juan Pedro Laclette, have been working on the project for months.

Their vaccine candidate uses a protein fragment that they say has been shown in animal studies to produce antibodies and a strong cellular response.

«We believe that it is very [segura], and it’s just the essential part of triggering an effective immune response, ”Sciutto said, unlike, say, a vaccine that would require the injection of a killed virus.

The group, which involves dozens of members across multiple divisions of the university, plans to take its vaccine to Phase 1 trials in January.

At that rate, the group is far behind other vaccine trials around the world. But Laclette points out that being the first is not necessarily the same as being the best, and we still don’t know how well the first round of vaccines will work.

“However, considering the pandemic situation around the world, it will not be too late,” Laclette said.

Getting billions of doses around the world could be the logistical challenge of the century. And each vaccine is different, it may work better in certain populations than in others.

“It is important to have many alternatives and select the best one,” Sciutto said.

‘I feel like I’m on the front line’

Developing a vaccine is only the first part. Producing hundreds of millions of doses is another challenge altogether.

Sciutto and Laclette’s team has partnered with Mexican pharmaceutical company Neolpharma to produce the vaccine on a large scale.

In an exclusive tour of the Mexico City-based company’s production facilities, industrial manager Diego Ocampo said the production process has been simplified in an unprecedented way.

Typically, once a vaccine is developed, it would be years before your facility could be ready for mass production. Neolpharma is trying to speed things up by using an existing platform – in this case, a system for producing proteins with genetically modified E. coli bacteria.

Neolpharma employees have also been working longer and longer shifts and streamlined their supply chain to help speed up the process.

Lufthansa and the challenge of distributing cold covid-19 vaccines 2:29

The Mexican government, like others around the world, will also loosen some of the regulations that normally surround vaccine development.

Authorities say they will review each candidate vaccine on a case-by-case basis, although Neolpharma expects “an expedited review, close follow-up with the evaluation committee, and expedited approval of clinical trials,” among other changes, says Ocampo.

Ocampo believes those factors combined will allow the company to produce millions of vaccines shortly after a candidate is approved, though he couldn’t say exactly when.

The two huge German-made production machines at its facility can each produce approximately 500,000 doses of a vaccine per day, depending on the final size of each dose.

“As a Mexican, I feel like we are helping in some way … I feel like I’m on the front line,” said Ocampo.

Unknowns in sight

This entire process is far from being a guaranteed success, with important unknowns at each step of the process.

The Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs could run into significant obstacles in the procurement of foreign-manufactured vaccines. It is also possible, although perhaps not very likely, that the six trials of domestically manufactured vaccines in Mexico will fail. And safely and effectively producing and distributing hundreds of millions of doses will be extremely difficult.

Advantages and disadvantages of Pfizer and Moderna 1:23 vaccines

Mexico is not a country with a highly developed vaccine production industry. Vaccine timelines are generally analyzed in terms of years, not months. But these are unprecedented problems that demand different kinds of solutions. And Mexico is trying.