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Brazilian Ministry of Health says will buy Chinese vaccine against COVID-19, but Bolsonaro rejects idea

Bolsonaro said on Twitter that the country "will not buy the vaccine" before it is proven effective against disease

coronavirus vaccine illustrative image
Photo: Shutterstock
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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and a high-ranking health official said on Wednesday the federal government will not buy a COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac, one day after the health minister said it would be included in the nation’s immunization program.

Brazil’s Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that would buy the vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the Chinese laboratory Sinovac, in partnership with the Butantan Institute. According to the Sao Paulo government, the acquisition will be made through the Unified Health System (SUS, in the acronym in Portuguese), in order to guarantee 46 million doses to the National Immunization Program.

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The agreement was signed in a virtual meeting of the Minister of Health, Eduardo Pazuello, with governors, held on Tuesday afternoon, 20. In it, it was said that the federal government will pay BRL 1.9 billion for 46 million doses. The resource would have to come from a new Provisional Measure by the Presidency (which means that it would have to be approved by Congress later). The Ministry of Health also announced the investment of BRL 80 million to expand the structure of Butantan in order to produce more doses of the vaccine.

Today, however, President Jair Bolsonaro said, on Twitter, that, in his opinion, “there is no justification for a billionaire purchase of a drug that has not even passed its testing phase”, and that his decision is “not purchase the vaccine.”

Preliminary agreements between governments, laboratories, and institutes have been the modus operandi of all countries in this pandemic – Brazil, therefore, would not be an exception when making the agreement with Sinovac. Despite the president’s apparent conflict with the idea, the agreement is likely to be maintained, according to government interlocutors.

coronavirus vaccine illustrative image
Photo: Shutterstock

In the meeting, Pazuello said that the government’s intention is to start vaccination in January 2021.

The state of Sao Paulo, in its turn, has entered into a partnership with the Sinovac laboratory to purchase 46 million doses of the vaccine for the state, 6 million of which are ready and the other 40 million formulated by the Butantan Institute by December 2020. By February 2021 will be over 15 million doses, totaling 61 million available.

Sao Paulo’s Governor Joao Doria, who announced on Tuesday that the federal government had agreed to buy 46 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, took exception to that stance on Wednesday.

“The vaccine is what is going to save us, save us all,” he told reporters. “It’s not ideology, it’s not politics, it’s not an election that will save us. It’s the vaccine,” added Doria, who is viewed as a potential opponent for Bolsonaro in 2022 presidential elections.

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Brazil has been among the world’s hardest-hit nations by the pandemic, with more than 5 million infections and nearly 155,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

The inclusion of the vaccine, called CoronaVac, in the national vaccination program of a nation of 230 million people would be a major success for Sinovac in what could be one of the world’s first immunization efforts against the coronavirus.

As shown by LABS, Sinovac’s vaccine proved to be safe in trials with 9,000 Brazilians.

The Brazilian government already has plans to purchase the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and produce it at its biomedical research center FioCruz in Rio de Janeiro.

Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who has drawn close to U.S. President Donald Trump, has made disparaging remarks about China in the past, even though it is Brazil’s largest trade partner.

He has minimized the gravity of the virus and criticized lockdowns that governors such as Doria have enforced.