MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's government said on Friday the second round of doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine could be delayed and private companies will be allowed to purchase the drugs directly as the country struggles to keep rampant infections in check.
Mexico set two daily coronavirus death records this week, with hospitals overwhelmed by a surge in cases and patients faced with paying a fourfold increase in prices for scarce oxygen tanks.
Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the deputy health minister, said Mexico was considering delaying the administration of the second dose of the two-shot Pfizer Inc./BioNTech vaccine to patients to help get the first dose to those in need more quickly.
"We're seeing if we need to expand the time period to 35 days," said Lopez-Gatell, who added that there would be "no need" to delay the administration of the second doses if enough new vaccine arrives in the coming weeks.
The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only one being administered in Mexico, which has reported the fourth-highest death toll from the pandemic worldwide.
Mexico had been expecting weekly deliveries of some 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but as a result of the U.S. drugmaker's agreements with the World Health Organization (WHO), it is now expecting to only receive half of that total.
The WHO said on Monday it was in advanced talks with Pfizer about including its vaccine in the agency's portfolio of shots to be shared with poorer countries.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador added that his administration will issue authorization for any company or local government that wants to acquire vaccines to administer them in Mexico.
Mexico's Business Coordinating Council (CCE), one of the country's top business lobbies, said the announcement was "positive" but added that laboratories around the world had committed their current allotments to national governments.
CCE said it is in touch with laboratories "with a view to the future."
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Raul Fernandez Cortes; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, William Maclean and Paul Simao)