By Alba Santandreu
Sao Paulo, Jun 18 (EFE).- The director of a world-renowned Brazilian epidemiological center told Efe in an interview that even as the pandemic-battered country approaches the grim milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths the “negationist movement” spearheaded by rightist President Jair Bolsonaro regrettably has grown stronger.
“There had never been such high mortality in Brazil, and it seems like people are playing around,” Dr. Dimas Covas, a physician and scientist who since 2017 has run Brazil’s prestigious Instituto Butantan, the largest vaccine producer in South America, said in reference to the head of state’s supporters.
He noted that the rate of coronavirus transmission in Brazil remains much higher than in other countries and said now is not the time for people to let their guard down, even though Bolsonaro – a Covid-19 survivor – has proposed an end to mask use by those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from a bout with the disease.
“The pandemic is accelerating. So we now have to tighten the restrictive measures, (promote) mask use, social distancing,” Covas said. “You can’t compare (Brazil) with any other country that has eased” its guidelines.
Getting Brazil’s health crisis under control now depends on accelerating the vaccination process, he said, blaming the slow rollout to this point on the Bolsonaro administration’s failure to seal contracts with vaccine developers and health regulator Anvisa’s delays in approving the Chinese-developed, Instituto Butantan-produced CoronaVac for emergency use.
“If those aspects had been addressed as a priority, Brazil could’ve been one of the first countries in the world to start inoculating” its population, the scientist said.
“The longer we take to vaccinate the adult population, which is the priority, the longer it will take us to control the most dire aspect of the pandemic: deaths and the strain on the hospital system,” Covas added.
Referring to vaccine production delays on the part of Instituto Butantan and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), responsible for local production of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, he said they have been due to a shortfall in shipments of the vaccines’ active pharmaceutical ingredients from China.
Bolsonaro, who notoriously referred to the coronavirus last year as a “measly flu,” has been dismissive of vaccines and frequently appears in public without a face mask, also is at fault on that score, according to Covas.
He said the lack of those vaccine inputs is attributable to the counterproductive criticism the president has leveled against China since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
“It obviously hurts. It creates confusion. It makes it difficult for the Chinese government’s bureaucracy to release” API shipments, the Instituto Butantan director said.
To date, just over 11 percent of a population of around 210 million people have been fully immunized in Brazil, which ranks second globally in Covid-19 deaths after the United States and third in the number of coronavirus cases after the US and India.
But the top executive of Instituto Butantan, an institute affiliated with the Sao Paulo state government, said he is confident the vaccination rollout will accelerate starting next month.
He noted the Brazilian government expects to receive 180 million vaccine doses, including additional shipments of the CoronaVac, between July and September.
In total, Instituto Butantan will deliver 100 million doses to the federal government and an additional 30 million to the Sao Paulo state government. Afterward, the center will have the freedom to supply vaccines to neighboring countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, Covas said. EFE