By Raphael Alves and Carlos Meneses
Autazes, Brazil, Feb 6 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s effort to get the Covid-19 vaccine to indigenous people in the Amazon region has become a race against the clock amid a spike in infections and the emergence of a worrisome new variant of the virus.
Aboard a motorboat at full speed on the Preto do Pantaleao river, the public health agent for indigenous communities in the area around Autazes holds on his lap a cheap Styrofoam cooler with a taped-on thermometer.
“I am bringing hope,” Ilair Mura tells Efe.
The cooler contains some 20 doses of CoronaVac, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, that are intended for residents of the remote village of Soares.
Brazilian health authorities are making it a priority to inoculate the indigenous population, who have historically been highly vulnerable to new diseases.
The health ministry says that 42,040 indigenous people living in rural reserves have been infected with the coronavirus, leading to 555 deaths.
But the government does not break out the statistics on cases and fatalities in urban areas by ethnicity.
To fill that gap, various NGOs are maintaining their own counts. According to figures from one of those groups, APIB, Covid-19 has killed 953 indigenous people.
Brazil’s overall death toll from the pandemic stands at 230,000, second only to the United States, while only the US and India have more confirmed cases than the South American nation’s nearly 9.5 million.
Once in Soares, Ilair, handling the cooler as if it were a precious relic, makes his way to the open-air pavilion serving as the vaccination site.
Personnel with the Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI) of Manaus, the largest city in Brazilian Amazonia, have already administered the first dose of the two-dose CoronaVac medication to 60 percent of the more than 15,000 people in their jurisdiction.
“We are working hard to cover this entire area in the shortest possible time,” nurse and local DSEI coordinator Januario Neto tells Efe.
The settlements are widely scattered and vaccinating the inhabitants of a single village can easily become an all-day project because of travel time, he says.
Three Soares residents sit on benches waiting their turn to be inoculated.
“I was afraid of the injection, not of the vaccine. The vaccine is important. I’m happy because I didn’t feel anything,” Joelma Ezagui, 27, tells Efe after getting the shot.
Rosane Nascimento, 44, is among several people in Soares who were unable to be vaccinated on DSEI’s previous visit because they had fevers.
“Our world was different before Covid. Now we live with a very tragic situation,” he says.
The vaccine is a “guarantee that you will live longer,” Nascimento says while proudly displaying the form showing that he has received the first dose.
Outside Amazonia, the pace of vaccination of indigenous people has been substantially slower. Only around 37 percent of the inhabitants of designated reserves nationwide have been inoculate, the health ministry says.