Brazil’s health regulator has given the green light to the Oxford / AstraZeneca and Chinese Sinovac coronavirus vaccines, paving the way for Latin America’s largest nation to launch an immunization program marred by delays and political bickering.
After a five-hour marathon presentation that was broadcast live on Sunday, the board of watchdog Anvisa (the Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária) voted unanimously to approve emergency uses for both vaccines in a country with Covid’s second highest death toll -19, at nearly 210,000.
‘There is only one enemy. Our best chance in this war must be through changes in social behavior. Without it, even with a vaccine, the victory will not be achieved, ”said Antônio Barra Torres, head of the agency, at the event.
Shortly after the decision, a 54-year-old nurse from São Paulo was the first to receive an injection, as Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the country could reach up to 1 million vaccinated people per day.
The authorization follows controversy over the effectiveness of the Sinovac jab, dubbed CoronaVac, which was jointly developed by the company headquartered in Beijing and the Butantan Institute in São Paulo.
After initially revealing that the shot showed 78 percent efficacy in studies in Brazil, scientists at the Biomedical Institute made it clear earlier this week that the “ generalized efficacy rate, ” including cases with very mild symptoms, was only about 50 percent – barely above the threshold to consider a vaccine viable.
Brazilian population. The government has ordered 254 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine and 100 million CoronaVac
The new data on CoronaVac further fueled skepticism about the Chinese-made vaccine, which has long been the target of attacks from right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters. About 22 percent of Brazilians say they would not take a vaccine, in line with Mr Bolsonaro’s position, even as infections and deaths increase.
Anvisa’s emergency permit, legally effective after publication in the official gazette, opens the door for Brazilian health authorities to administer injections as early as this week. It includes 6 million doses of CoronaVac imported from China and a batch of 2 million Oxford / AstraZeneca jabs yet to be shipped from India, which has just started its own immunization program.
To inoculate its 210 million inhabitants, Brazil has ordered 254 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine and 100 million CoronaVac, respectively, most of which will be domestically produced.
However, it is not only lagging behind developed countries, but also others in the region, including Argentina and Mexico, which started immunization programs last month.
Ministers have said priority will be given to Manaus, the capital of the riverside Amazonas. The health system there has been overwhelmed by hospital admissions and deaths are the result of a lack of oxygen supply.
Concerns have also been raised about the availability of supplies needed to administer the vaccines, especially syringes.
Critics say the situation is the result of mismanagement by the Health Ministry, which Mr Bolsonaro has piled up with military officers, often rather than health workers. Minister Pazuello is a general in active service, but with a logistics background.
“Except in some areas where there are still qualified people, most management roles are filled by people who do not have the necessary qualifications, and they are unable to implement the machine to develop already established programs, such as the immunization program of the country, ”said Fernando Aith, professor of public health at the University of São Paulo.
Despite the delays, however, Mr Pazuello has predicted that Brazil will export vaccines “very soon”, given the country’s pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities.
In addition to the two vaccines approved on Sunday, the country is also considering purchasing the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine, but ministers have shied away from liability for side effects at the request of the manufacturer.
Brazil’s health regulator asked for more data on Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on Saturday after finding that the minimum requirements had not been met in an emergency use application filed by a local drug manufacturer.
Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice