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Brazil awaits Covid-19 vaccine cargo from India amid supply concerns

Healthcare workers receive a dose of the Sinovac vaccine at Hospital das Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. — Reuters
Healthcare workers receive a dose of the Sinovac vaccine at Hospital das Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil. — Reuters

Rio De Janeiro - Brazil’s government is eagerly awaiting the delayed arrival of 2 million doses of vaccine from India


Published: Fri 22 Jan 2021, 10:18 AM

Brazil’s government is eagerly awaiting the arrival of two million doses of coronavirus vaccine from India, while experts warn the precious cargo will do little to shore up an insufficient supply in South America’s biggest nation.

Brazil’s health ministry on Thursday announced the shipment of the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. It is expected to clear customs in Sao Paulo before being flown to Rio de Janeiro, where Brazil’s state-run Fiocruz Institute is based, the ministry said. Fiocruz has a partnership with AstraZeneca and Oxford for the vaccine’s distribution and production.

The two million doses from India only scratch the surface of addressing the shortfall, Brazilian public health experts said, as millions more will be needed to cover priority groups, and shipments of raw materials from Asia have been delayed.

“Counting doses from Butantan (Sao Paulo state’s Butantan Institute) and those from India, there isn’t enough vaccine and there is no certainty about when Brazil will have more, or how much,” Mario Scheffer, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, said. “It will interfere with our capacity in the near-term to reach collective immunity.”

A flight from India planned for last week was postponed, derailing the federal government’s plan to begin immunisation with the AstraZeneca shot. Instead, vaccination in the nation of 210 million people began using the CoronaVac shot in Sao Paulo, where Butantan has a deal with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac.

Neither Fiocruz nor Butantan have yet received the technology from their partners to produce vaccines domestically, and instead must import the active ingredient.

The Indian Embassy in Brasilia didn’t respond to a request for comment on the announced shipment nor the cause for last week’s delay.

Fiocruz said in a statement that the Health Ministry could begin distribution of the imported AstraZeneca shots Saturday afternoon, following quality control inspection.

Butantan made available 6 million CoronaVac doses it imported from China in order to kick off Brazil’s immunisation, and it used materials imported from China to bottle an additional 4.8 million shots. The health regulator must approve use of the latter batch before it can be distributed to states and municipalities across Brazil.

Scheffer estimated in a report he published January 18 that the government will need 10 million doses just to cover front-line health workers, leaving the elderly and other at-risk Brazilians included in priority groups without any vaccines. The government’s own immunisation plan doesn’t specify how many Brazilians are included in priority groups.

“We are doing what is possible to get the vaccine,” President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday night in his weekly Facebook live broadcast, adding that his government will make free, non-mandatory vaccination available to all Brazilians.

Brazil has recorded 214,000 deaths related to Covid-19, the second-highest total in the world after the United States, and infections and deaths surging again.

While Brazil has a proud history of decades of immunization campaigns, in this pandemic it has struggled to cobble together a complete plan and suffered multiple logistical pitfalls.

“The vaccination plan is badly done, in general,” said Domingos Alves, adjunct professor of social medicine at the University of Sao Paulo. “It’s important that the information be transparent and clear for the population to know how this vaccination process will be done.”

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