The Brazilian government has received two million doses of India’s Coronavirus vaccine, but experts have warned that the shipment will do little to make up for the shortage of supplies in the largest country in South America.
The Brazilian Ministry of Health announced that the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, landed in São Paulo on Friday before being flown to Rio de Janeiro, where the Fiucruz Institute of Brazil is located.
Brazilian Prime Minister Jair Bolsonaro tweeted to Narendra Modi, with a photo of Lord Hanuman taking medicines from India to Brazil, thanking India for helping with a vaccine in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Modi responded in a tweet saying that the two countries will continue to work together in the area of health.
– Prime Minister Namaskar Arinarindramode
Brazil is honored to have a great partner to overcome a global obstacle. Thank you for helping us export vaccines from India to Brazil.
– Dhanyavaad! obrigada pic.twitter.com/OalUTnB5p8
Jair M Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) January 22, 2021
Fucruz has an agreement to produce and distribute the vaccine.
Brazilian public health experts told the AP that two million doses from India are just scratching the surface of the shortage, as more doses will be needed to cover priority groups in the 210 million country, and raw material shipments from Asia have been delayed .
Mario Schaeffer, professor of preventive medicine at the University of São Paulo, said.
This deficiency “will interfere with our ability to achieve hereditary immunity in the short term”.
A flight from India scheduled to take place last week has been delayed, blocking the federal government’s plan to start immunization with a dose of AstraZeneca.
Instead, vaccination started with CoronaVac injection in São Paulo, when Butantan struck a deal with its producer, Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.
Countries around the world, especially developing countries, are struggling to get vaccines suitable for their populations.
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Fucruz and Butantan have not yet received the technology from their partners to produce vaccines locally, and must import the active ingredients.
On Friday night, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India told a news conference in New Delhi that the vaccines were sent to Brazil and Morocco.
“As you can see, the supply of vaccines made in India is underway, either as gifts or on a commercial basis,” said ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava.
In a note released on Thursday, Fiucruz said the Ministry of Health could start distributing vaccines imported from AstraZeneca on Saturday afternoon, after a quality control check.
Butantan produced 6 million doses of CoronaVac imported from China for the launch of the vaccination in Brazil and used materials imported from China to pack 4.8 million additional doses.
On Friday, the health regulatory agency approved the use of the final batch for distribution to states and municipalities across Brazil.
In a report published on Monday, Schaeffer estimated that the government would need only 10 million doses to cover frontline healthcare professionals, leaving the elderly and other vulnerable Brazilians without vaccines.
The government’s own immunization plan does not limit the number of Brazilians included in the priority groups.
“We are doing our best to get the vaccine,” said President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday night in his weekly live broadcast on Facebook, adding that his government would provide free, non-mandatory vaccination for all Brazilians.
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Brazil recorded 2.14,000 deaths related to Covid-19, the second highest death rate in the world after the United States, and injuries and deaths increased again.
Although Brazil has a proud history of decades of immunization campaigns, it has struggled in this pandemic to come up with a complete plan and has suffered from many logistical pitfalls.
“The vaccination plan was generally poorly executed,” said Domingos Alves, assistant professor of social medicine at the University of São Paulo.
“It is important that the information is transparent and clear so that the population knows what this vaccination will be like”.
There has been some speculation on social media that diplomatic deception – from Bolsonaro’s allies who criticized the Chinese government – may explain the delay in obtaining the necessary inputs.
Oliver Stwinkel, professor of international relations at Getulio Vargas University, told the AP that such reading is simplified amid growing global demand.
“Of course, as Bolsonaro does not get along with the Chinese government, he does not have direct access,” said Stoinkle, from São Paulo.
“There is a possibility that the bad relationship will end up putting Brazil in a lower position than the recipients, but not because the Chinese are actively saying: ‘We will punish Brazil, but perhaps because the other presidents have a better relationship.”
The Folha ds Paulo newspaper reported on Wednesday that Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuelo met with the Chinese ambassador in Brasilia and that Bolsonaro requested a call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Felipe Martins, Bolsonaro’s international relations advisor, said in a television interview the same day that Brazil is looking for suppliers from other countries.
Martinez told RedeTV! “Negotiations are going well.” There was “a great exaggeration about nothing,” he added.
Legislators, including the president of the Chamber of Deputies Rodrigo Maya and the president of the Brazilian-Chinese Parliamentary Group, senator Roberto Rocha, also met with the Chinese ambassador.
Butantan planned to supply the Brazilian Ministry of Health with 46 million doses by April.
The company expects to import 5,400 liters of the active ingredient by the end of the month to manufacture around 5.5 million doses, and new shipments from China are pending authorization from the Chinese government, according to a press release.
Fiucrose had initially scheduled delivery of 100 million doses to begin in February and another 110 million in the second half.
The institute said that by December 30, its plan was to deliver 30 million doses by the end of February, but that the first deliveries were postponed until March.
“Brazil does not have vaccines available for its population,” said Margaret Dalkolmo, a prominent lung specialist at Fucruz who treated patients with Covid-19 this week.