Brasilia, Jan 14 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s government will begin its Covid-19 vaccine rollout on Jan. 20, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello reportedly said during a Thursday virtual meeting with around 130 mayors to discuss the country’s immunization plans.
The launch date was revealed via social media by several of the participating mayors but has not yet been confirmed – or denied – by the Health Ministry.
The mayors, however, noted that the rollout is contingent upon health regulator Anvisa’s granting emergency-use authorization for a pair of vaccines whose laboratories have started the process of registering their products in Brazil.
One of those vaccines has been developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, while the other has been jointly developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
The laboratories behind those vaccines asked Anvisa last Friday to approve their products for emergency use, and the regulator is expected to make a definitive announcement on those requests at a meeting on Sunday.
Of the 354 million Covid-19 vaccine doses the Health Ministry has confirmed for arrival this year, AstraZeneca accounts for 212.4 million and Sinovac for roughly 100 million.
Brazil could launch the immunization drive next Wednesday with 6 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine already in storage and 2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s product, which are to arrive from India on Monday.
By the end of January, Brazil is expected to be able to count on a supply of vaccines produced on home soil.
The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a Health Ministry-linked research and development institution that is licensed to produce the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in Brazil, has the capacity to manufacture more than 15 million doses of that product per month.
The Sao Paulo state government’s Instituto Butantan is licensed to manufacture Sinovac’s vaccine and plans to produce up to 50 million doses in the first half of this year.
“According to the minister, two million doses of AstraZeneca’s (vaccine) will arrive in Brazil on Monday (and) will be distributed to all of the states. We also have 6 million doses of Sinovac’s (vaccine). If Anvisa authorizes its use on Sunday, the vaccines will be distributed until Tuesday and we’ll start vaccinating on Wednesday,” Florianopolis Mayor Gean Loureiro wrote on Twitter.
The mayors of the cities of Salvador, Curitiba, Cuiaba, Maringa, Ribeirao Preto and Araucaria also confirmed the start date for the rollout.
But the president of the National Front of Mayors, Jonas Donizette, said a delay could occur if a plane that is to travel to India on Friday to import 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine does not arrive back in Brazil on Monday as scheduled.
The initial plan was for the plane to depart on Thursday, but the Health Ministry now says it will not leave until Friday night due to some logistical problems.
“Although the minister mentioned Jan. 20 at 10 am as the start date for the campaign, that depends on the logistics of the flight and Anvisa’s authorization,” Donizette, the mayor of the southeastern city of Campinas, said.
President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has faced criticism for the lack of a start date for the vaccination rollout even though several of Brazil’s regional neighbors – including Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Costa Rica – have already begun to inoculate their populations.
The rightist head of state has consistently downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus and also has been skeptical about the need for a vaccine.
Home to around 210 million inhabitants, Brazil has been one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 8.26 million confirmed coronavirus cases (third after the United States and India) and over 206,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 (second only to the US). EFE-EPA