A nurse has received the first vaccine dose of Brazil’s Covid-19 immunisation programme after health regulators gave emergency approval to two jabs. Regulator Anvisa gave the green light to vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac, doses of which will be distributed among all 27 states.
Brazil’s vaccine programme has started later than many of its regional peers. This is despite the severity of its epidemic, and the world’s second highest death toll. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the pandemic from the beginning, has come under renewed fire in recent months as Brazil has gone through a devastating second wave of the virus. Authorities reported 551 new fatalities on Sunday, the first time in six days that it had fallen short of 1,000. In all, more than 209,000 Covid-19 related deaths have been recorded in Brazil, a raw total figure only exceeded by the US. Over 8.4 million infections have been confirmed since the start of the pandemic – the third-highest tally in the world.
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello told reporters that the national vaccination programme in the country of 211 million people would be assisted by two Brazilian biomedical centres which have been given approval to produce the jabs. Shortly after Anvisa’s board gave emergency approval, Monica Calazans, a 54-year-old nurse in São Paulo, became the first person to be inoculated with CoronaVac, developed by Sinovac. This has been a rare piece of good news today for Brazilians who are grappling with a devastating second wave. From where I am, the city of Manaus, the vaccine doesn’t feel real. People here are trying to recover a collapsed health system and doing what they can to keep their sick relatives alive.
The pandemic has become deeply political in Brazil. President Bolsonaro continues to present himself as a vaccine sceptic and he was notably absent as the vaccines were approved. Instead, Monday’s newspapers will no doubt have São Paulo’s governor João Doria slapped on their front pages. He is expected to run in next year’s presidential elections and has backed the Sinovac vaccine from the very start, he was once a Bolsonaro ally and is now his nemesis – but there’s no doubt who’s leading the way in trying to get the population vaccinated. CoronaVac is also being used in China, Indonesia and Turkey.
The news comes after revelations that a new coronavirus variant has emerged in Brazil. Several cases were traced back to the country’s Amazonas region, where a state of emergency is in place. Manaus, the region’s capital city, has been hit especially hard, with beds and life-saving oxygen running low. Refrigerated containers have also been brought to hospitals to help store bodies. President Bolsonaro has faced mounting criticism for his handling of Brazil’s outbreak, and several anti-government protests were held last week. An opponent of lockdowns, he has previously blamed state governors and mayors for the Covid-19 crisis, saying the federal government has provided all the resources needed to tackle the virus.