Brasilia, May 27 (EFE).- The physician and scientist who runs Brazil’s prestigious Instituto Butantan suggested Thursday that the actions of President Jair Bolsonaro delayed the start of Covid-19 vaccination in the South American nation where the disease has claimed nearly 455,000 lives.
“We could have been the first country in the world to vaccinate,” Dr. Dimas Covas told a Senate committee investigating the right-wing president’s handling of the pandemic.
Affiliated with the Sao Paulo state health department, Instituto Butantan is a world-renowned epidemiological center and the largest vaccine producer in South America.
In August 2020, Covas said, Butantan offered to supply the Brazilian federal government with 100 million doses of the Coronavac vaccine, which the institute manufactures under license from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
The proposal included a promise to deliver the first 5 million doses by the start of December.
A day after the offer from Butantan, Bolsonaro vowed that his government would “never” buy a Chinese vaccine, though the federal health ministry had already announced a preliminary accord to acquire 46 million doses of Coronavac.
The president’s statement came amid an ongoing battle with conservative Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria, a political rival.
Declining to comment on the dispute between Bolsonaro and Doria, Covas said that the talks between Butantan and the health ministry remained on hold until the start of January.
The ministry signed a contract with Butantan on Jan. 6 and vaccinations got under way 11 days later.
Covas said that if the Bolsonaro government had accepted the offer made last August, when vaccine ingredients were readily obtainable, Butantan would have been able to deliver 100 million vaccine doses by March 30.
Instead, Brazil – with a population of 210 million – has received a total of 46 million doses, due in part to shortages of raw materials amid the global scramble to obtain vaccines.
Coronavac accounts for roughly 70 percent of the vaccine administered to date in Brazil, where only 10 percent of adults have received the two required doses.
Covas appeared before the Senate panel two weeks after Pfizer Inc.’s top executive for Latin America, Carlos Murillo, testified that Bolsonaro’s government never responded to an offer that would have seen 1.5 million doses of the US drug-maker’s Covid-19 vaccine reach Brazil last December.
Contacts between Pfizer and Brasilia began in May 2020, according to Murillo, who said that by the end last August, the company said it could provide Brazil with 70 million doses beginning with an initial consignment of 1.5 million doses in December.
The offer was ignored, Murillo said, until December.
On March 19, Brazil and Pfizer finally agreed to a deal for 100 million vaccine doses. EFE ed/dr