Brazil ghosted Pfizer when it gave the country 70 million vaccines
- Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has offered Brazil up to 70 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, but has never received a response.
- Brazil has recorded 16 million cases and 450,000 of its citizens have died.
- A total of 64 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been administered in Brazil, with an estimated average rate of 659,189 doses per day.
Last August, when Brazil had become one of the countries most affected by Covid, Pfizer proposed to the Ministry of Health to set aside up to 70 million doses of the vaccine it was developing.
There’s no answer.
So he made the offer again.
And then a third time.
The following month, the company’s former Brazilian director, Carlos Murillo, told the US Congress that the global head of Pfizer had presented the offer in writing to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with copies to the vice president, head of cabinet, the ministers of health and the economy and the ambassador. in the USA.
He never heard back.
The severity of Covid in Brazil, with 16 million cases and 450,000 lives lost, has often been attributed to Bolsonaro, who still wades unvaccinated and maskless in crowds. A congressional investigation clearly shows, however, that its negligence has been offset by incompetence at almost all levels of government in key processes – negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, relations with other countries and management of the supply chain. supply.
“We could immunize two million people a day,” says Carla Domingues, who has led Brazil’s national immunization program for most of the past decade. “If Brazil had signed agreements last year, we could have been in a privileged position, just like the United States or the United Kingdom.”
Instead, as parts of the world put the pandemic behind them, in Brazil 2,000 still die every day. Although vaccinations are underway, vital local production drops every few weeks as ingredients run out. With the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere and the end of social distancing, health officials fear a third wave.
Congressional hearings uncover a series of failures, starting with Pfizer’s efforts. It took three more offers and six more months for Brazil to close a deal. Vaccines only started arriving piecemeal at the end of April, with larger batches expected after July.
Vaccinated in secret
Relations with Pfizer were far from the only misstep in vaccinations: planned charges of gunfire were delayed; misplaced reminders lay in a warehouse as cities halted vaccinations after using everything as their first doses; a senior employee of Bolsonaro was vaccinated in secret.
The government notes that it has delivered tens of millions of vaccines, placing it among the best countries in the world in terms of vaccines deployed. But that only covers 10% of its 212 million inhabitants with the two shots, compared to 36% in the UK. the next country in the ranking.
During congressional hearings, the testimony of former health minister Eduardo Pazuello only added to the feeling of bewilderment. He denied neglecting Pfizer negotiations, saying he “always” tried to buy projectiles, but regulations prevented him from doing so.
He also denied that Bolsonaro ordered him to halt the purchase of CoronaVac projectiles from China in October, saying he never received a formal order to do so. At the time, Bolsonaro wrote on social media: “The Brazilian people WILL NOT BE SOMEONE’S GUINEA PIG,” adding that he would not buy the vaccine. Pazuello, an army general, responded a few days later by saying “one commands, the other obeys”.
Dimas Covas, the director of the Butantan Institute, which produces the plan locally, told another story. Testifying at Thursday’s hearings, Covas said his initial offer – 60 million doses made in July – also went unanswered. Talks progressed after the August meetings and a deal was ready to be signed in October – until Bolsonaro intervened, putting any deal on hold.
CoronaVac has been a source of political division because of its origins. Reinforced by the governor of Sao Paulo (and enemy of Bolsonaro) Joao Doria, he has been criticized several times by the president who seemed to celebrate the suspension of clinical trials after the death of a volunteer, calling it “another victory” . Covas said Butantan started having problems recruiting volunteers for his clinical trials amid intense attacks on the vaccine, especially on social media, although he did not name Bolsonaro.
As options dwindled, the government bought CoronaVac. But at that time, it was January. The damage to the proposed timeline was done and a new, more aggressive variant was emerging in the country.
Butantan and Fiocruz, which partnered with AstraZeneca, faced delays in getting doses and active ingredients ready to use. The resurgence of the virus in India, bureaucracy at home and abroad, and diplomatic errors – weeks ago, Bolsonaro suggested the Chinese created the virus as “biological warfare” – have all been blamed. . The ministry has repeatedly reduced the forecast for the number of vaccines available and forced Fiocruz and Butantan to stop production.
“The first estimates were made without a lot of technical information,” said Mauricio Zuma, who heads the Fiocruz unit responsible for vaccine research and production. “The reality turned out to be a little different from what we expected.”
A total of 64 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have now been administered in Brazil, with an estimated average rate of 659,189 doses per day.
The Department of Health’s goal of one million vaccinations per day has only been met occasionally, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Daily numbers tend to drop and the timing of deliveries of more shots from Butantan and Fiocruz remains cloudy.
Political struggles over the pandemic will continue as the congressional investigation is expected to last for months. The investigation saw its share of drama – threats of arrest, heated arguments and a brief suspension after Pazuello suffered a drop in blood pressure after six hours of questioning.
Resignation from office “ unlikely ”
Efforts to remove Bolsonaro from office are unlikely to gain traction as he maintains a solid base of support among centrist parties and his own voters. But the investigation gives the president’s rivals a powerful platform to attack him. The sessions, which picked up on political news, often feature video clips of Bolsonaro dismissing the severity of Covid-19 and the need for vaccines.
Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo, posted a meme posing as an alligator holding his vaccination card, a reference to Bolsonaro joking that Pfizer’s shot could turn people into reptiles. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is planning a comeback, told supporters in March: “Don’t listen to the silly decisions of the president or the health minister. Get vaccinated.”
The president’s mockery over vaccines has had an effect on those around him. Last month, its chief of staff, Army General Luiz Eduardo Ramos, was caught admitting to having been illegally vaccinated.
“I got it in secret,” Ramos said in a meeting in late April, unaware that it was being taped. “I’m going to be honest because, like everyone else, I want to live.” He and the other attendees were unaware that the meeting was being broadcast online.
“Brazil could have led the vaccinations globally,” said Covas. “The government just didn’t understand the importance.”
– With the help of Caroline Aragaki and Andre Romani.