Brazilian city vaccinating all adults in unprecedented study

Rio de Janeiro, May 16 (EFE).- Brazil, one of the countries hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, on Sunday vaccinated all the adults in a city of 150,000 as part of an unprecedented study that could provide a reference point for the efficacy of mass inoculation.

The project, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the endorsement of the World Health Organization, has transformed Botucatu, a medium-size city in the interior of Brazil’s Sao Paulo state, into a world laboratory for a “real life study” of immunization against Covid-19.

The authorities responsible for the project set the goal for Sunday of vaccinating about 80,000 of the city’s residents between the ages of 18 and 60, that is to say a little more than 80 percent of the 106,000 adults living in Botucatu, which is located 237 kilometers (147 miles) from Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, where several important universities are located.

Since people over age 60 have already been vaccinated as part of the nationwide immunization campaign launched on Jan. 18, 2021, the expectation is that at least 90 percent of all adults in the city will be immunized by the end of the effort on Sunday.

The campaign is part of a study promoted by the Health Ministry and the Universidad Estatal Paulista (Unesp) to study the efficacy of massive immunization with the vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Britain’s Oxford University, which also are backing and participating in the experiment.

In addition, the experiment is being supported by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which is linked to the Brazilian Health Ministry, is the largest medical research center in Latin America and has the license to manufacture 210 million doses of the Oxford vaccine in Brazil.

In this phase four study, besides determining the ability of the Oxford vaccine to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, authorities are intending to analyze the efficacy of massive vaccination and the vaccine itself against the new variants of the coronavirus that are currently circulating in Brazil.

The experiment will last for eight months and includes administering two doses of the vaccine to each participant, the second shot coming three months after the first, and monitoring the health status of all participants, along with that of the residents of nearby cities, who will be used as “controls” for comparative purposes.

The study’s organizers will isolate DNA from the blood samples of all Botucatu residents who may contract the virus after being immunized to identify the variants that continue to sicken people and to try to identify the genetic characteristics and the behavior that enables the disease to spread.

The study could help to determine after-vaccination strategies to follow in Brazil, which has suffered the second highest death toll – some 435,000 – in the world from Covid-19 and the third-highest number of confirmed infections, with some 15.6 million cases.

Brazil – with 84 million doses of the AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Pfizer vaccines already administered – has provided at least one dose to about 19 percent of its population and two doses to almost 10 percent.

According to epidemiologist Cargos Magno Fortaleza, a research with Unsep and one of the study’s coordinators, this is the first time that any city in the world of more than 100,000 inhabitants has been used for this kind of experiment.

He said that Botucatu was selected specifically due to its size so that the results of the study could provide a “real” look at how a vaccine can reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“All the new cases that may be noted and confirmed by lab tests will be included and all the viruses responsible for those infections will be (DNA) sequenced to be able to identify the variants that continue circulating and the more resistant ones,” Fortaleza said.

The results of the massive immunization in Botucatu will be shared both with neighboring cities, where vaccination of the population is being undertaken gradually, along with those throughout Brazil along with results from the under-16 population.

The effort on Sunday was launched by Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga and vaccination sites were established at public health facilities along with traditional voting precincts, given that election authorities have the complete list of local adults and can contact them to inform them of the project.

The experiment is similar to one undertaken several weeks ago in Serrana, another smaller city in the interior of Sao Paulo state, but with the difference that that municipality used the Sinovac vaccine and the adult population was immunized in a campaign taking about a month.

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