In Brazil, a month of sluggish vaccination against the coronavirus

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In Brazil, hitherto a model country for mass vaccinations, barely more than 2% of the 212 million inhabitants have received an injection against the coronavirus, after the first month of a sluggish national campaign.

In the absence of clear directives from the government of Jair Bolsonaro, states and cities found themselves left to fend for themselves, with many hiccups, fraud and even the suspension of vaccinations as in Rio de Janeiro or Salvador, for lack of doses.

Some 5.2 million people have received one dose of the vaccine – and less than 250,000 the second – in the second most bereaved country in the world, with nearly 240,000 dead.

Vaccination began several weeks late in the United States or most European countries, also very affected.

However, that did not stop the Latin American country from vaccinating twice as much as France, which started three weeks earlier.

But many specialists believe that Brazil, on the strength of its experience, could vaccinate much faster.

“In 2010, more than 80 million people were vaccinated against H1N1 in less than three months,” said AFP Ethel Maciel, epidemiologist at the State University of Espirito Santo (Ufes).

She points the finger in particular to the Minister of Health Eduardo Pazuello, an army general with no experience in this area.

“We have a lot of excellent immunization professionals in Brazil, but those who are above them in the hierarchy are soldiers, mostly inexperienced,” she laments.

“Criminal” management

Due to the government’s lack of anticipation and diplomatic tensions over cookie-cutter statements by the far-right president – especially with regard to China – Brazil has had all the penalties of world to import its first doses and the necessary inputs to manufacture more.

The Anvisa health agency has only authorized two vaccines to date, the Chinese CoronaVac and that of the Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca.

Only 12 million doses were available for the start of the immunization campaign. The government expects the delivery of 210.4 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of the year and 100 million of CoronaVac by the end of August.

“It was a mistake on the part of the government to put all its eggs in one basket,” laments Ethel Maciel, who considers “criminal” the constant minimization of the health crisis by President Bolsonaro.

“He spearheaded an anti-vaccine campaign, saying he wouldn’t get vaccinated or that vaccines could turn people into crocodiles. He sowed doubt in the population, ”adds the epidemiologist behind a request for the dismissal of the president.

Disturbing variant

“The lack of doses prevents us from setting up a mass vaccination as we know how to do”, explains Natalia Pasternak, microbiologist at the University of Sao Paulo (USP).

And time is running out, due to the devastation caused in the Amazon by the Brazilian variant, which is starting to spread throughout the country.

“If we let the virus circulate in a frantic way, other mutations can appear, so we must accelerate the vaccination and multiply the sequencing to identify them,” insists Ms. Pasternak.

Specialists also note absurd situations due to the absence of clear guidelines from the ministry on the groups to be vaccinated as a priority.

“In my state, only people over 90 have been vaccinated. But physical education students, 20-year-olds, have already been, ”laments Ms. Maciel.

Not to mention the fraudsters, who were able to get vaccinated before others thanks to their connections.

Despite all these dysfunctions, the Minister of Health assured that the entire population would be immunized “by the end of the year”, half of which “before June”.

“It is possible that in the end we will have the number of sufficient doses, but it will be complicated at the operational level, unless there is a radical change in management on the part of the ministry”, concludes Guilherme Werneck, epidemiologist of the ‘State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj).