Brazil grapples with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine as the death toll soars

Four months after a vaccination campaign against Covid-19 marred by shortages and delays, hard-hit Brazil is still struggling to find adequate doses as political and diplomatic blunders extend the pandemic nightmare.

About 33 million people – 15 percent of the population – have received at least one dose of vaccine in Brazil, a percentage too small to have a substantial impact on the spread of the virus.

Targeted by a Senate investigation into dealing with the pandemic, President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has been criticized for failing to obtain more vaccines, including refusal of offers to buy millions of doses and diplomatic tensions with China overpowering the import of vaccine ingredients. possibly slow down. .

“We currently don’t have enough doses to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Margareth Dalcolmo, a pulmonologist and researcher at the leading public health institute Fiocruz.

“We should be vaccinating younger people, especially given that younger demographics are currently driving transmission,” she told AFP.

But first, Brazil still needs to vaccinate 80 million people from high-priority groups, including the elderly, indigenous peoples and health workers.

Vaccination doses, meanwhile, continue to come in in a trickle – though the government claims it can vaccinate all adults by the end of the year.

Brazil has lost more lives to Covid-19 than any country except the United States – more than 430,000 – and has one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world.

Although the current wave has eased somewhat since April, the virus is still killing an astonishingly large number of people in the country – nearly 2,000 a day.

Rejected deal

Despite its enormous size, the South American country is known for running turbulent vaccination campaigns.

In 2010, Brazil vaccinated more than 80 million people against H1N1 – the swine flu virus, in less than three months.

“We have to vaccinate two million people a day,” said Dalcolmo.

As it stands now, Brazil has rarely taken more than a million Covid-19 shots per day.

“We’ve gotten better since the start of the year, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be,” said Joao Viola, chairman of the scientific committee of the Brazilian Immunological Association.

Brazil began using two vaccines, Oxford / AstraZenecas and China-developed CoronaVac, both of which are licensed to produce locally.

The ride got a boost last month with the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine. But so far, only about two million of the 100 million doses that Brazil has ordered have been delivered.

All three shots require two doses.

Brazil could have secured more Pfizer doses more quickly, but Bolsonaro’s government declined an offer to buy more than 70 million of them last August.

The far-right president, who has rejected persistent expert advice on how to deal with the pandemic, joked that the vaccine could “ turn you into an alligator ” – only to change course months later and allow a deal with the US pharmaceutical giant.

“The global demand for vaccines is very high, so those who were slow to sign deals are getting their orders later,” Viola said.

Diplomatic tension

Bolsonaro, whose government often has strained relations with China, also refused to buy CoronaVac, calling it the vaccine from “that other country.”

But a political opponent, Joao Doria, governor of Brazil’s most populous state, Sao Paulo, still pushed for a deal for CoronaVac.

The vaccine now accounts for more than 70 percent of the doses administered in Brazil.

However, the public health center that produces it in Brazil, the Butantan Institute, announced on Friday that it would have to stop production because it had run out of active ingredient to be imported from China.

Brazil will start producing the active ingredient for CoronaVac itself, but not until September.

The Butantan Institute said “diplomatic problems” could prevent it from delivering new doses in June.

Last week, Bolsonaro provoked China by saying it may have created the novel coronavirus in a lab to wage “ bacteriological warfare. ”

“10,000 liters (active ingredient for CoronaVac) are ready, waiting for the Chinese government to approve shipping,” said Doria.

“But every time someone here makes a disparaging comment about China, it clearly makes it more difficult.”


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