Brazil's Sluggish Fight with Coronavirus

Brazil's Sluggish Fight with Coronavirus

Almost all manufacturers of coronavirus vaccines have tested its effectiveness in Brazil. But the government failed to secure marketable vaccines. President Bolsonaro shows no interest in strategy.

Julio Barbosa is sure he wasn't given a placebo. He is a test subject for BioNTech and Pfizer and has heard that the vaccine's effectiveness is very high. The young nurse likes to believe that, because in his ward, without exception, all other nurses have been infected with Covid-19, except him.

He also had side effects. He felt a little weak after being injected with the new preparation, and the puncture site hurt for a long time. But that could also happen if it wasn't the coronavirus vaccine. He was told that the placebo was a hepatitis vaccine.

Brazil's Coronavirus Death Toll Exceeds 200,000 People 

Barbosa has a daughter, and his parents live next to them in the house next door. As younger adults all over the world probably do, it was about her that he was most concerned about. Because of them, too, he felt like he was doing something right if he volunteered for the tests. The Brazilians do not get any money for their willingness. Just a lunch. "It's clear why so many manufacturers have come to Brazil for their tests," he says. "In a country with few infections, in the end, you don't know whether people weren't infected because they were vaccinated or because they simply didn't have any contact with the virus."

In Brazil, it is difficult not to have contact with Covid-19. More than eight million people are infected, and more than 200,000 people have died from the virus. "In Brazil, there are two ways of dealing with it," says Barbosa: "The smaller group of people don't go out at all, but most Brazilians carry on almost precisely as if there was no pandemic. The beaches are full, as are restaurants and bars; too many don't wear face masks, don't keep their distance, go to work and drive on full buses. "

Julio Barbosa's family is disappointed. They were very much hoping for a vaccine. "Half the world is now vaccinating, and manufacturers are selling the coveted ampoules in many countries, but none of them come to Brazil."

Broken negotiations with BioNTech

The virologist Roberto Medronho from the University of Rio de Janeiro immediately makes it clear that the fault lies not with the manufacturers but with the Brazilian government. "Brazil is one of the most important countries for vaccine production in the whole world. Here, in particular, enough knowledge should have been available to notice in time that Covid-19 vaccine could be injected highly efficiently intramuscularly," he says. So one should have taken care of the procurement of disposable syringes at an early stage. "That didn't happen."

Now the market is completely inflated, and it is tough to get access to syringes worldwide. "The price for syringes has risen sharply, and President Jair Bolsonaro has said that he will stop buying anything," says the virologist. "That can't be the solution!" If Bolsonaro doesn't buy syringes, then nobody will be vaccinated here.

Negotiations for 70 million cans with BioNTech and Pfizer were well advanced. Then the government backed down and slammed the door on the company. That was a big mistake, says Roberto Medronho. "Today, 25 million Brazilians could be vaccinated."

Ridicule from the president

For President Bolsonaro, coronavirus remains a "minor flu." He doesn't wear masks, makes fun of those who do. João Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo, was also the target of his ridicule. In two years, Doria, likely opponent of Bolsonaro in the presidential election, tried to secure the Coronavac vaccine from the Chinese manufacturer Sinovac for his state early on. His health minister had already announced the purchase of 46 million doses for Sao Paulo in October. "Whoever gets this vaccination," said President Bolsonaro, "will probably turn into a crocodile."

What sounds like a misplaced joke to most people has met with open ears in Brazil, especially in the areas without higher education access. However, the president prevented the purchase of vaccines, and months of political turmoil followed - until last Friday. On January 8, the federal government confirmed the purchase of the 46 million doses, and the vaccination start for Sao Paulo is January 25.

The virologist Medronho suspects calculation: January 25 is the city's birthday. "Such a politicization, if human lives depend on it, shouldn't exist," he says. If the vaccine and approval were there tomorrow, the authorities would have to start vaccinating!

No vaccine approved so far

But that is precisely where the next problem lies: even if there were more vaccines in the country, none of the vaccines available worldwide are approved in Brazil. The competent authority (ANVISA) has not yet received an application for approval of a vaccination. According to the announcement, it would take another ten days for approval from the day the application was submitted.

And there is no vaccination strategy. Anyone who knows how much discussions in other countries about the vaccination sequence will not assume that a plan will be quickly agreed upon in Brazil. But the states decide for themselves. There should be no compulsory vaccination in Brazil. But tough sanctions are under discussion for those who do not get vaccinated: for example, bans on entering shops or restaurants, travel bans, or the exclusion of children of unvaccinated parents from school.

When the vaccinations start in Brazil, there will again be two ways of dealing with them. Some will be happy to be vaccinated finally; others will do it like they did its president, who has long since announced that there is no way he will be vaccinated.

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