Brazil gov’t moves up vaccine rollout amid pressure from governors

Guarulhos, Brazil, Jan 18 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s Health Ministry has ceded to pressure from governors and moved up the start date for its nationwide vaccine rollout by two days to Monday.

The head of that portfolio, Eduardo Pazuello, made the announcement in the southeastern city of Guarulhos during the launch ceremony for the distribution of 6 million doses of the CoronaVac, a vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech.

“I think we can start (vaccinating) today, beginning at 5 pm,” instead of Wednesday, he said alongside several governors who had been pressing for an immediate start to the nationwide rollout.

Heavily populated Sao Paulo state, which leads Brazil in Covid-19 cases and deaths and through its Instituto Butantan biologic research center has been the main promoter of the Chinese vaccine in Brazil, has outpaced the federal government in getting its own inoculation campaign under way.

“To all of the victims’ families, we offer our solidarity. It’s very difficult to lose someone we love. The first step for the world’s biggest vaccination campaign has been taken,” Pazuello said at one of the ministry’s distribution centers located near the Sao Paulo/Guarulhos international airport.

The Anvisa health regulator on Sunday gave emergency-use authorization for both the CoronaVac and another vaccine that was developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford (Covishield) and will be manufactured in Brazil by the state-run Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz).

Immediately after their approval, Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria – a former ally of Bolsonaro’s who is now his chief political rival – began rolling out the vaccine for the state’s health-care workers.

The Health Ministry’s announcement earlier this month that it had signed a contract with Instituto Butantan for the purchase of up to 100 million doses of the CoronaVac was considered a political victory for Doria over Bolsonaro, who has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus and also has been critical of Sinovac’s vaccine, the only one currently available in Brazil.

Nevertheless, Sao Paulo’s move to roll out the vaccine without waiting for the start of the federal government’s National Immunization Program irked some elected officials such as the governor of the northeastern state of Piaui, Wellington Dias.

“The agreement was always that Brazil was going to (start vaccinating) on the same date. One state has put the others in like a second category,” Dias, a member of the leftist Workers’ Party, said in a message to other governors, according to the Folha de Sao Paulo daily.

The federal government has begun shipping more than 4.64 million CoronaVac doses (out of a total of 6 million) to the states; the remaining 1.36 million will remain in Sao Paulo, which is carrying out its regional distribution using heavily guarded trucks and via air from the cities of Guarulhos and Campinas.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that three military aircraft in Guarulhos and one in Brasilia, which will transport badly needed vaccines to the hard-hit northwestern state of Amazonas, have begun distributing doses nationwide.

The first vaccines are to be administered Monday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro state in a symbolic ceremony at the foot of the emblematic Christ the Redeemer statue, with the mayor of Rio de Janeiro city, Eduardo Paes, and the state governor, Claudio Castro, leading the proceedings.

The federal government, meanwhile, plans to pick up a batch of 2 million doses of the Covishield vaccine in India and is waiting for authorization from that South Asian country to do so. In the coming months, Fiocruz will produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine on a large scale on Brazilian soil.

Brazil’s ministries of health, defense and foreign relations had announced plans for a flight to India last Wednesday, but Bolsonaro said last Thursday and Friday that logistics problems related to the start of the vaccination drive in that Asian country would cause a delay of a few more days. EFE


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