Brazil turns the tide with COVID-19 vaccines

Jordi Miro - Agence France-Presse
Brazil turns the tide with COVID-19 vaccines
A health worker administers a dose of the CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine to a man at a drive-thru vaccination post in Brasilia on September 13, 2021. Brazil is one of the fastest vaccinating countries on the planet, after a late and chaotic start that continues to take its toll on President Jair Bolsonaro.

BRASÍLIA, Brazil — Despite a slow start plagued by much controversy that still haunts President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's coronavirus vaccination campaign is now one of the fastest-paced and farthest-reaching in the world.

While boasting a globally renowned vaccination system, the country of 213 million people only started coronavirus inoculations in January, several weeks after the United States, many European countries and others in South America.

The rollout was delayed by political bickering under a president who belittled the pandemic and spread vaccine falsehoods, then hamstrung by logistical difficulties in the vast country.

But the country with the world's second-highest Covid-19 death toll — more than 588,000 fatalities reported to date — has seen its coronavirus vaccination rate pick up and its death rate tumble as imported jabs started arriving and local production began.

In the past three months, the number of Brazilians with at least one jab has almost tripled to cover 67.6 percent of the population — slightly higher than in the United States with 63.4 percent and Argentina with 63.8, according to an AFP count.

The figure for those fully vaccinated is much lower, at 36 percent — but enough to put Brazil in third place among the world's ten most populous countries.

With vaccine supply uncertain at first, Brazil decided to focus on giving a first dose to as large a number of people as possible, and opted for a long interval between the first and second jab.

'Little flu'

Logistical delivery problems have largely been ironed out through trial and error, and supply concerns are a thing of the past with Brazil now producing its own AstraZeneca and Sinovac jabs under license.

"The acceleration was seen from May-June, with the arrival and much more consistent supply of vaccines," Jose David Urbaez of the Society of Infectious Disease told AFP.

As a result, from more than 2,000 daily deaths in June, there are now fewer than 600 per day.

Today, Brazil is the country with the fourth-most doses administered — a total of 214 million — after China, India and the United States.

It is administering the third-most doses daily — some 1.5 million on average per day in the last week, and has started giving shots to teenagers and booster shots to vulnerable people.

One problem the country does not have is vaccine skepticism: More than 90 percent of Brazilians have told pollsters they want the jab.

Brazil's recent success came despite a chaotic pandemic outset under the leadership of Bolsonaro, who at its height minimized the virus as a "little flu," fought lockdowns, questioned face masks and rejected various offers of vaccines while pushing unproven drugs such as hydroxychloroquine.

Last December, the president, who had himself contracted Covid-19, suggested the Pfizer vaccine may turn people into crocodiles, cause women to grow beards or men to become effeminate.

He long sought to discredit China's CoronaVac inoculation, even as the governor of Sao Paulo fought to have it approved.

Too late for Bolsonaro?

If the Bolsonaro government had started to negotiate with vaccine manufacturers in mid-2020, like many other countries, "by May or June (this year) Brazil would have already vaccinated its target population," said Urbaez.

Bolsonaro's handling of the outbreak has contributed to his popularity tumbling to a lowly 22 percent, according to a poll Thursday, with frequent protest marches to call for his resignation.

There are dozens of outstanding impeachment bids against him, and a Senate committee is investigating his government's pandemic response.

Bolsonaro is also the subject of several criminal investigations — one of them concerning allegations that he sat on evidence of corruption in a Covid vaccine deal.

Bolsonaro, who came to power in 2019, has rejected all claims of government corruption, instead denouncing the legislature's inquiry as a political "antic" aimed at forcing him from office.

He will seek reelection in 2022, but worried about his chances, Bolsonaro has launched a series of attacks on the judiciary and the very electoral system itself.

"The acceleration of vaccination will have very positive consequences for Brazil, such as the reduction in the number of deaths and greater reopening of economic activity, but is unlikely to translate into an increase in popularity" for Bolsonaro, said political scientist Mauricio Santoro.

At a health center in Brasilia, retiree Monica de Barros, 57, received her second vaccine.

"Hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been avoided by firmer and less denialist action," she told AFP.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 27, 2021 - 7:38am

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France's Sanofi in partnership with the UK's GSK and is subject to a "final contract."

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

October 27, 2021 - 7:38am

A medical panel of US government advisors vote to recommend authorizing the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for five-to-11-year-olds, paving the way for younger children to get their shots within weeks.

"It is pretty clear to me that the benefits do outweigh the risk when I hear about children who are being put in the ICU, who are having long term outcomes after their Covid, and children are dying," says Amanda Cohn of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, who voted yes. — AFP

October 22, 2021 - 9:05am

New Zealand sets a 90-percent vaccination target Friday for scrapping lockdowns as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern unveiled a plan to open up despite the stubborn grip of the Delta variant.

Ardern says her goal had shifted from eliminating Covid-19 to minimising its spread in the community by ramping up vaccinations.

She says the change meant New Zealanders would not be subject to stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns, provided they were fully inoculated.

"We cannot ask vaccinated people to stay home forever," she tells reporters. — AFP

October 15, 2021 - 2:45pm

An expert committee recommends a booster dose of Moderna's anti-Covid vaccine in the United States for certain at-risk groups, a month after making a similar decision for the Pfizer shot.

The opinion submitted by the advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration -- composed of researchers, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts -- is not binding, but it is rare for the FDA not to follow it. 

After a day of debate, the experts decided to authorize a booster dose of Moderna for three categories of people: the over-65s, people aged between 18 and 64 who are at a higher risk of developing a severe version of the coronavirus, and those whose work may involve frequent exposure to the virus. — AFP

October 13, 2021 - 6:55am

G20 trade ministers on Tuesday promise to work towards a fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines by lifting export restrictions and making the trade system more transparent.

Their final statement, adopted after a meeting in Sorrento, southern Italy, was a sign of the return of multilateralism, says Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

"We have to ensure that there is greater circulation of vaccines and that there are production factories in the developing countries," French trade minister Franck Riester says. — AFP

October 2, 2021 - 10:22am

COVID vaccinations will be compulsory for all students in California, the state's governor announced Friday — a first in the United States, where vaccine hesitancy has slowed efforts to end the pandemic.

The plan will be phased in as Food and Drug Administration regulators grant full approval for use in younger age groups.

California "will require our kids to get the Covid-19 vaccine to come to school," said Governor Gavin Newsom.

"Our schools already require vaccines for measles, mumps and more. Why? Because vaccines work. This is about keeping our kids safe and healthy."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been granted full FDA approval for those age 16 and up. — AFP

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