Brazil begins vaccinating kids aged 5-11 despite Bolsonaro’s reservations

Rio de Janeiro, Jan 17 (EFE).- A drive to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11 against Covid-19 kicked off on Monday in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and eight other large cities despite objections from right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

A month after the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) gave the green light for immunizing that segment of the population – an estimated 20.5 million boys and girls – those shots are now being administered in the bulk of Brazilian territory.

A dozen state capitals began administering shots to children under the age of 12 over the weekend.

Then on Monday, precisely one year since adults in Brazil began to be inoculated against Covid-19, it was the turn of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba, Belem, Goiania, Maceio, Manaus, Porto Velho, Macapa and Rio Branco.

Since Jan. 17, 2021, roughly three-fourths of Brazil’s 213 million people have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose and 68 percent have been administered an initial two-dose series.

Over the past six months, that mass immunization campaign has been key to Brazil’s having experienced a dramatic drop in its number of Covid-19 deaths.

But Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and been skeptical of the vaccines from the beginning; he was even temporarily banned from Facebook and YouTube under their fake news policies for claiming that reports suggest the fully vaccinated have been developing HIV/AIDS “much faster than expected.”

Medical experts have strongly rejected that assertion.

Brazil’s federal government also has expressed opposition to vaccinating young children against Covid-19, which according to official figures has thus far caused 621,000 deaths in the country (second-most worldwide after the United States) is blamed for at least 311 fatalities there in children between five and 11.

Bolsonaro’s administration responded to Anvisa’s decision by holding public consultations to discuss the extension of the vaccine drive, a move that delayed the start of the campaign.

That skepticism contrasts with majority opinion in Brazil. According to a survey published Monday by the Datafolha polling institute, nearly 80 percent of Brazilians are in favor of immunizing children against Covid-19 and 58 percent believe Bolsonaro is trying to put obstacles in their path.

In that regard, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes on Monday urged parents in that state to “trust the science” and “not play around with their children’s lives.”

“Don’t believe fanciful theories, nonsense and lies in those WhatsApp chats. We’re going to vaccinate children and preserve the future of this city,” Paes told reporters.

Rio Health Secretary Daniel Soranz said the idea is to conclude the campaign for that age range in mid-February, though adding that will depend on the amount of doses distributed by the Health Ministry, which has promised 20 million through March.

Although the mass immunization campaign for ages five to 11 kicked off Monday in Sao Paulo state, an eight-year-old indigenous boy with limited mobility, Davi Seremramiwe, became one of the first 15 kids to receive a dose when he was administered a shot at a ceremony last Friday at Hospital da Clinicas in Sao Paulo city.

This latest immunization drive comes at a time when the Omicron variant has caused the number of confirmed cases to skyrocket: from 57,000 cases in the last week of 2021 to 476,000 registered between Jan. 9-15.

That explosion of cases is starting to heap pressure on the public health system in some cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, although most of the hospitalized patients are either unvaccinated or have received just one vaccine dose.

The average number of Covid-19 deaths has risen slightly over the past week to around 150 per day.

Soranz said he expects the Omicron wave in Brazil to last between 25-35 days, basing that estimate on the experience of other countries that were hit first by that coronavirus variant.

He added, however, that the country’s health care system is preparing “for all scenarios.” EFE

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