Vaccine supplies are running low in some places in Brazil. Some people worry that President Jair Bolsonaro’s government won’t deliver enough shots for its desired coronavirus immunization efforts. The situation has Brazilian state governors on the hunt for their own supplies.
Brazilian health experts say the country needs about 340 million shots for the entire population above age 18. That puts Brazil’s 27 governors are under pressure. Vaccine stockpiles have already dwindled.
Last year, Brazil’s government declined to buy 70 million doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Bolsonaro defended the decision. He says Pfizer wanted his government to release the company from any possible responsibilities—something he was unwilling to do at the time. Today, Bolsonaro’s administration has a deal for 100 million AstraZeneca doses. But only two million have arrived.
Government vaccines are being distributed across Brazil, which is larger than the continental United States. Local authorities administer the shots, so the number of people immunized isn’t clear. But a steady supply of shots seems in doubt.
The governor pushing hardest to secure his state’s own vaccine supply is João Doria of Sao Paulo state. Doria was a Bolsonaro ally. Now he’s turned adversary.
Bolsonaro repeatedly criticized Doria’s deal to purchase 100 million CoronaVac shots from a Chinese pharmaceutical company. The peevish president said his government wouldn’t buy the meds.
Bolsonaro changed his mind last month. He did so during delays in the delivery of the only vaccine his administration did purchase. He watched as other nations began immunizing their citizens—while Brazil’s 210 million people were on hold.
“If it weren’t for this [CoronaVac] shot, Brazil today would be a country without vaccines,” Doria says. He is currently bargaining for 20 million more doses. And if the Brazilian government doesn’t buy them from his state, Doria could sell them to other governors. “It is not for a state government to secure vaccines,” he points out. “But here we are.”
Bahia state’s Governor Rui Costa also struck out on his own for vaccines. He purchased rights to 50 million doses of the Sputnik V shot from Russia. But that medicine hasn’t yet been authorized by Brazil’s health authorities.
After ignoring Costa’s deal for months, Brazil’s Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said on February 5 that the government will buy 10 million Sputnik V shots from Costa.
Maranhao state Governor Flavio Dino is one of Bolsonaro’s most vocal critics. He says the pandemic and difficulties in vaccine rollout have given normally opposing governors common cause.
“The health crisis and the lack of dialogue with Bolsonaro made the governors grow closer, even if they have deep ideological differences,” says Dino. “He acts as if he weren’t in charge, so we see each other as the ones dealing with reality.”
Give the king Your justice, O God, . . . May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! — Psalm 72:1, 4
(Health workers leave a home after a resident declined to be vaccinated against the new coronavirus, in Amazonas state, Brazil. Navigating complex waterways to reach remote communities in Brazil’s Amazon is only the first challenge for the healthcare workers vaccinating people against COVID-19. AP/Edmar Barros)