As countries rushed their preparations to inoculate citizens against the coronavirus, Brazil, with its world-renowned immunization program and a robust pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, should have been at a significant advantage.
But political infighting, haphazard planning and a nascent anti-vaccine movement have left the nation, which has suffered the pandemic’s second-largest death toll, without a clear vaccination program. Its citizens now have no sense of when they may get relief from a virus that has brought the public health system to its knees and crushed the economy.
“They’re playing with lives,” said Denise Garrett, a Brazilian-American epidemiologist at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which works to expand access to vaccines. “It’s borderline criminal,” she added.
Experts had held out hope that Brazil’s immunization prowess might allow it to handle the end of the pandemic better than it handled the beginning.
Soon after Covid-19 was first identified in the country in February, Brazil became an epicenter of the global health crisis. President Jair Bolsonaro dismissed scientific evidence, called the virus a “measly” cold that did not warrant shutting down the region’s largest economy, and berated governors who imposed quarantine measures and business closures.
As vaccination efforts get underway in Britain and in the United States, giving their populations a chance to begin to imagine a post-pandemic life, the moment found Brazilian officials once again unprepared and mired in loud disputes over vaccine politics.
The Brazilian Health Ministry last week presented a vaccination plan in response to an order from the Supreme Court. The plan established the order in which vulnerable groups would be vaccinated but lacked a detailed timeline and a clear estimate of how many doses will be available. The ministry had previously said it intended to start the vaccination campaign in March.
Days after the announcement, the Health Ministry was still scrambling to place orders with overextended vaccine suppliers. Officials at the ministry also faced questions over why the country did not have enough syringes and vials on hand to embark on the ambitious vaccination campaign, necessary to cover a country with 210 million residents, where more than 180,000 have succumbed to the virus.
On top of that, Anvisa, Brazil’s health regulatory agency, has yet to approve any coronavirus vaccine for general use.
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