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Brazil turns the tide with COVID-19 vaccines

Jordi Miro – Agence France-Presse

September 17, 2021 | 7:49am

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — Despite a slow start plagued by much controversy that still haunts President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s coronavirus vaccination campaign is now one of the fastest-paced and farthest-reaching in the world.

While boasting a globally renowned vaccination system, the country of 213 million people only started coronavirus inoculations in January, several weeks after the United States, many European countries and others in South America.

The rollout was delayed by political bickering under a president who belittled the pandemic and spread vaccine falsehoods, then hamstrung by logistical difficulties in the vast country.

But the country with the world’s second-highest Covid-19 death toll — more than 588,000 fatalities reported to date — has seen its coronavirus vaccination rate pick up and its death rate tumble as imported jabs started arriving and local production began.

In the past three months, the number of Brazilians with at least one jab has almost tripled to cover 67.6 percent of the population — slightly higher than in the United States with 63.4 percent and Argentina with 63.8, according to an AFP count.

The figure for those fully vaccinated is much lower, at 36 percent — but enough to put Brazil in third place among the world’s ten most populous countries.

With vaccine supply uncertain at first, Brazil decided to focus on giving a first dose to as large a number of people as possible, and opted for a long interval between the first and second jab.

‘Little flu’

Logistical delivery problems have largely been ironed out through trial and error, and supply concerns are a thing of the past with Brazil now producing its own AstraZeneca and Sinovac jabs under license.

“The acceleration was seen from May-June, with the arrival and much more consistent supply of vaccines,” Jose David Urbaez of the Society of Infectious Disease told AFP.

As a result, from more than 2,000 daily deaths in June, there are now fewer than 600 per day.

Today, Brazil is the country with the fourth-most doses administered — a total of 214 million — after China, India and the United States.

It is administering the third-most doses daily — some 1.5 million on average per day in the last week, and has started giving shots to teenagers and booster shots to vulnerable people.

One problem the country does not have is vaccine skepticism: More than 90 percent of Brazilians have told pollsters they want the jab.

Brazil’s recent success came despite a chaotic pandemic outset under the leadership of Bolsonaro, who at its height minimized the virus as a “little flu,” fought lockdowns, questioned face masks and rejected various offers of vaccines while pushing unproven drugs such as hydroxychloroquine.

Last December, the president, who had himself contracted Covid-19, suggested the Pfizer vaccine may turn people into crocodiles, cause women to grow beards or men to become effeminate.

He long sought to discredit China’s CoronaVac inoculation, even as the governor of Sao Paulo fought to have it approved.

Too late for Bolsonaro?

If the Bolsonaro government had started to negotiate with vaccine manufacturers in mid-2020, like many other countries, “by May or June (this year) Brazil would have already vaccinated its target population,” said Urbaez.

Bolsonaro’s handling of the outbreak has contributed to his popularity tumbling to a lowly 22 percent, according to a poll Thursday, with frequent protest marches to call for his resignation.

There are dozens of outstanding impeachment bids against him, and a Senate committee is investigating his government’s pandemic response.

Bolsonaro is also the subject of several criminal investigations — one of them concerning allegations that he sat on evidence of corruption in a Covid vaccine deal.

Bolsonaro, who came to power in 2019, has rejected all claims of government corruption, instead denouncing the legislature’s inquiry as a political “antic” aimed at forcing him from office.

He will seek reelection in 2022, but worried about his chances, Bolsonaro has launched a series of attacks on the judiciary and the very electoral system itself.

“The acceleration of vaccination will have very positive consequences for Brazil, such as the reduction in the number of deaths and greater reopening of economic activity, but is unlikely to translate into an increase in popularity” for Bolsonaro, said political scientist Mauricio Santoro.

At a health center in Brasilia, retiree Monica de Barros, 57, received her second vaccine.

“Hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been avoided by firmer and less denialist action,” she told AFP.

As It Happens

LATEST UPDATE: September 18, 2021 – 9:14am

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France’s Sanofi in partnership with the UK’s GSK and is subject to a “final contract.”

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

September 18, 2021 – 9:14am

A panel of leading US medical experts advising the government vote in favor of authorizing boosters of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for everyone aged 65 and up, as well as people at high risk of developing severe Covid.

The same committee however rejected an initial proposal, submitted by Pfizer and backed by President Joe Biden’s administration, to fully approve boosters to everyone aged 16 and over. 

The decisions came after a day-long meeting full of data presentations and at times charged debate that was convened by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tens of millions of Americans will soon be eligible for a third shot. — AFP

September 17, 2021 – 12:51pm

US medical experts will meet Friday to debate and vote on the controversial question of giving out booster doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to the general population.

President Joe Biden’s administration announced in August a plan to roll out third shots to everyone, not just the immune compromised already able to receive them, starting from September 20. 

But experts have since expressed reservations about whether they are required, amid concerns over global inequity, the greater need to vaccinate the unvaccinated, and possible increased risk of side effects. — AFP

September 16, 2021 – 5:21pm

China has fully vaccinated more than one billion people against the coronavirus — 71% of its population — official figures showed Thursday.

The country had mostly curbed the virus within its borders but is racing to get the vast majority of its population vaccinated as a new outbreak takes hold in the southeast.

“As of September 15, 2.16 billion vaccine doses have been administered nationwide,” said National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng at a press briefing. 

Chinese health authorities said late last month that 890 million people in China had been fully vaccinated and two billion doses administered. 

The government has not publicly announced a target for vaccination coverage, but top virologist Zhong Nanshan said last month that the country is likely to have 80% of its population inoculated by the end of the year.

China is currently battling an outbreak of the Delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian that has infected almost 200 people so far in three cities, many of whom are schoolchildren. — AFP

September 16, 2021 – 7:21am

Cuba says it would seek World Health Organization approval for two home-grown coronavirus vaccines it hopes to commercialize widely.

A vetting process will start Thursday with WHO experts examining the nation’s Abdala and Soberana 02 jabs, says Rolando Perez of state pharma group BioCubaFarma.

Perez says the experts would examine the vaccines’ “safety, immunogenicity (the ability of a vaccine to provoke an immune response) and efficacy.” — AFP

September 15, 2021 – 6:09pm

The European Union is to donate another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries, more than doubling its present pledge, the bloc’s chief says.

The extra doses announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen come on top of 250 million shots the EU has already promised to give to other countries, particularly ones in Africa.

“I can announce today that the commission will add a new donation of another 200 million doses until the middle of next year,” she tells the European Parliament in her annual State of the European Union address. — AFP

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