Brazil’s health minister said Tuesday the country would add the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine against Covid-19 to its national immunization program, despite a political and diplomatic row over whether to use it.
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the federal government had reached a deal with Sao Paulo state, which is helping test and produce the vaccine, to buy 46 million doses to be administered starting in January.
“This vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” in addition to another developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, Pazuello told a video meeting of the South American country’s 27 governors.
“That’s our big news. This is going to recalibrate the process” of eventually vaccinating Brazil’s population against Covid-19, which has claimed more lives here than any country except the United States.
CoronaVac, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, has been caught up in a messy battle in Brazil.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro had labelled it the vaccine from “that other country,” and resisted using it, pushing for the Oxford vaccine instead.
Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a top Bolsonaro opponent, meanwhile pushed a deal between Sinovac and Brazil’s Butantan Institute to test and produce the vaccine in his state.
Doria has touted the vaccine as safe and effective, personally holding press conferences to announce preliminary results from the clinical trials.
He and Bolsonaro have also clashed over whether vaccination should be compulsory, as Doria would like.
“That vaccine will not be obligatory, period,” Bolsonaro said Monday.
Both the Sinovac and Oxford vaccines are currently undergoing final-stage clinical trials in Brazil, a top testing ground for vaccine candidates because of its high infection rate.
Both still need regulatory approval.
Brazil had previously signed a contract for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine.
But CoronaVac is expected to be available first, after Oxford had to suspend testing in September when a volunteer developed an unexplained illness.
Brazil, a country of 212 million people, has registered 5.3 million cases and 155,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus.