Brazil’s health minister Eduardo Pazuello — the third person to hold the job this year during the coronavirus pandemic — is in hot water with President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro took to social media to disavow his minister on Wednesday after a flurry of negative comments from his supporters opposing the purchase of the Coronavac vaccine being developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The deal to purchase the vaccine to be distributed nationwide was announced the previous day by the Health Ministry in conjunction with the state of Sao Paulo whose Butantan Institute is working with Sinovac.
“The Brazilian people WON’T BE ANYONE’S GUINEA PIG,” the President wrote on his Facebook and Twitter pages, adding that billions can’t be spent on medication that is still being tested. “My decision is to not acquire the aforementioned vaccine.”
Calling it “Joao Doria’s Chinese vaccine,” in reference to the Sao Paulo governor, Bolsonaro said his government won’t buy any vaccine before the Health Ministry and regulator Anvisa approve it. Doria, a former ally turned rival, has been promoting the work with the Chinese firm.
Following a meeting with Doria, Pazuello said the government had signed a preliminary agreement to acquire 46 million doses of the Butantan-Sinovac vaccine. The purchase would only be made after regulator Anvisa had approved the medication, according to a statement.
Doria responded to Bolsonaro by asking for greater comprehension about the medication and asking him not to take it out on the minister. Two of Bolsonaro’s health ministers exited this year over disagreements on his handling of the pandemic including lockdown measures and the use of unproven treatments.
Doria and Bolsonaro have publicly bickered about everything from social distancing to the use of face masks and whether vaccines should be obligatory or not throughout the tumultuous year. Municipal elections next month have added more tension to the public debate.
Earlier this week, the Sao Paulo government said that the phase 3 trial for Coronavac had shown the vaccine was the safest available thus-far, though its efficacy still needs to be proven.
The federal government has already agreed to buy the vaccines being developed by AstraZeneca and Covax, for a total of 186 million doses. Brazil has been one of the hardest-hit countries by the virus, with about 5.3 million confirmed cases and 154,837 deaths from the respiratory disease.