Brazil looks for vaccines as India’s crisis slows deliveries

Global supplies of COVID vaccines are tight. Brazil is hunting for more as India’s crisis slows deliveries.

The Brazilian government is adding 1.6 billion reals ($286m) in funding to purchase vaccines, medicines and expand intensive care centres around the country [Victor Moriyama/Bloomberg]

Brazil is struggling to find vaccines to tackle one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks as resurgent outbreaks and supply shortages among top providers slow the pace of deliveries.

Foreign Minister Carlos Franca told lawmakers Wednesday he’s seeking vaccines from a variety of partners, including 30 million doses from China’s Sinopharm, plus 8 million doses of the India-produced AstraZeneca shot as well as any U.S. surplus. The problem, he added, is the pandemic’s upsurge in India and tight supplies globally have left Brazil scrambling for doses.

“The lack of vaccines and other medicine is not a problem only for Brazil — the virus is harming the whole world,” Franca said during a session of the lower house’s foreign relations committee. “Who could have expected that India would face such an outbreak?”

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Sinovac Biotech CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine to a person in Sao Paulo [Bloomberg]

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has indicated he’ll prioritize long-time ally India when sharing U.S. vaccine surplus. The U.S.’s stockpile of AstraZeneca passed 20 million doses earlier this month and has grown since, prompting calls to donate them to countries in need. The failure to secure vaccines for Brazilians contributed to the resignation of Ernesto Araujo as foreign minister last month.

Pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro is mounting as lawmakers investigate his government’s response to a pandemic that’s taken the lives of nearly 400,000 Brazilians. The country has deployed about 45 million shots so far, enough to cover 14.6% of the population with a first dose and 6.9% with a second one. While the pace of vaccinations has picked up this month, it’s unclear if it will be sustainable amid delays in deliveries of ready-made boosters and inputs.

Running Out

In the past few days, several cities have run out of CoronaVac shots, the main vaccine being used in the country. That has left thousands of Brazilians without a second dose of the booster, which has to be given about a month after the first.

Hopes for a faster expansion of the menu of vaccines faded this week when health regulator Anvisa rejected imports of Russia’s Sputnik V, citing a “lack of consistent and reliable data” on the shot’s safety, quality and efficacy. The agency has also denied a request to import the Covaxin shot, produced by India’s Bharat Biotech.

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes isn’t helping either. In an event with health experts Tuesday, he said China had “created the virus” and its vaccines are less effective than those produced by U.S. companies. Without responding directly, Beijing’s ambassador to Brasilia in a Twitter post reminded everyone that China is Brazil’s top vaccine provider.

Guedes later walked back his remarks, saying that the comments were “unfortunate” and insisted it was a misunderstanding. Omar Aziz, the senator who heads the congressional probe on Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic, wasn’t mollified.

“Guedes thinks he is a scientist when he talks about the Chinese vaccine,” Aziz told GloboNews in an interview. “We should thank China for having a vaccine.”

Source: Bloomberg