In an early Christmas gift to some, Chile and Mexico began immunizations on Thursday after granting emergency approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But in Brazil, where the Covid-19 death toll is far higher, lifesaving inoculation could be out of reach for months — the country’s Health Ministry announced last week that vaccinations would begin in February 2021.
Because Brazil has a strong track record of nationwide vaccination, she says there was a widespread expectation that Brazilians would have a regional advantage in the battle against the pandemic.
“Brazil has always been the leader in the implementation of new vaccines. We manage to achieve high vaccine coverage, even though it is a continental country with very different regions, such as São Paulo with a high population density and Amazonas, with huge distances, (and) an indigenous population,” she said.
“People were expecting that the Brazilian vaccination program would start earlier,” she said. But “other countries of the Americas that prepared themselves are already starting the vaccination, and Brazil has been left behind.”
With more than 7.4 million people diagnosed with Covid-19 in Brazil and new variants of the virus appearing abroad, there’s little reason to think that the pandemic is tapering off — a claim that Bolsonaro repeatedly made this year, even as cases continued to mount in the country. Only the US and India have reported more coronavirus infections than Brazil.
The Brazilian President also made headlines last week with an outlandish attempt to sow doubt about potential side effects from the Pfizer vaccine. “If you become an alligator, that is your problem,” he warned. “If you become Superman, or grow a beard as a woman, or a man’s voice becomes high pitched, I have nothing to do with that … or worse interfere in people’s immune systems.”
Pfizer did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Domingues believes that Brazil’s federal government was caught unprepared to use the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, after throwing its support behind a vaccine candidate by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which have partnered with local foundation Fiocruz. According to a statement published last week by the Health Ministry, Brazil has agreed to acquire more than 100 million doses of that vaccine, which remains in development.
Meanwhile fears linger over the influence of politics on the process, after a year of bitter clashes between Bolsonaro and state governors over the country’s pandemic response.
The President has made no secret of preferring the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to a vaccine developed by Chinese maker Sinovac Biotech, which is backed by the state of Sao Paulo and in development locally with Brazilian lab Butantan Institute.
ANVISA and the Brazilian Health Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Reporting contributed by Tatiana Arias, Jennifer Z. Deaton, Natalie Gallon and Stefano Pozzebon.