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UPDATE 2-Mexico gov't lowers target for purchasing CanSino COVID-19 vaccine doses

(New throughout, adds details on CanSino trails and other vaccines)

MEXICO CITY, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The Mexican government on Thursday floated the possibility that it will purchase far fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses from CanSino Biologics Inc than the 35 million doses announced last week by the country’s foreign minister.

Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, the government’s most prominent pandemic-response official, told W Radio that the amount of vaccines Mexico aims to buy from Chinese drugmaker CanSino is between 10 million and 35 million doses.

With the scramble for vaccine supplies heating up globally, Lopez-Gatell gave no reason why the government may purchase far less than planned. He said the government aims to finalize its contract with CanSino next week.

Lopez-Gatell also noted that the government is close to signing a separate vaccine contract with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit for a potential 22 million doses.

Last week, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said the CanSino deal would supply 35 million doses of the company’s vaccine. This week, Ebrard said that at least five pharmaceutical companies have made COVID-19 vaccine proposals to Mexico with offered arrival dates as early as next month.

Mexico also has firmer agreements with AstraZeneca, the WHO-backed COVAX scheme and U.S.-based Pfizer, which now has regulatory approval in Mexico for its vaccine and could begin arriving as soon next week.

CanSino’s vaccine trials in Mexico are in Phase 3, the final step before certification by health authorities. The firm’s goal is to reach 15,000 volunteers in Mexico to complete the studies, but currently has just over 6,500. The global trial size is 40,000 volunteers.

Full results of the 12-month study are expected by the end of next year, according to Annette Ortiz Austin, director of the EPIC Research CRO laboratory managing it.

Positive preliminary data, however, could accelerate the process and enable CanSino to have the vaccine ready for distribution by early 2021, she added in an interview with Reuters.

Mexico has been hard-hit by the pandemic.

The government’s official count shows that fatalities due to the coronavirus surpassed 115,000 on Wednesday, the fourth highest death toll worldwide behind only the United States, Brazil and India. (Reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez, Adriana Barrera and Cassandra Garrison; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio)

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