Brazil has the productive capacity and experience to carry out a vaccination programme. Its main obstacle is Bolsonaro’s government, argues Orlando Hill
Brazil tragically ranks second place in the number of deaths by Covid-19. There have been more than 180,000 deaths due to the pandemic and over 7 million confirmed cases since March. This is second only to the US.
Not coincidentally, these are the two countries in which their presidents, Trump and Bolsonaro, from the beginning have scorned the severity of the disease. Even more revolting is that Brazil will be the last among the countries with the highest number of deaths to start vaccination.
The United Kingdom, Russia and even the United States are already vaccinating. Mexico, Germany and Finland will begin to immunize in the coming weeks. Brazil’s neighbour Argentina starts vaccination in the next few days. Meanwhile, the Brazilian government remains oscillating between denialism and incompetence.
President Bolsonaro recently declared that Brazil was experiencing the very last moments of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there are no signs of a deceleration. Every one of the 27 states has at least one region with an upward trend in the number of cases. The main cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Curitiba, have registered overcrowded hospitals, queues of patients waiting for beds and a general lack of equipment.
On 16 December the federal government formally outlined the national vaccination plan against Covid-19 announcing a forecast of immunization of 51 million people in the first stage. However, there are no vaccines nor a date to start the vaccination programme.
According to the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL)
“even if the laboratories were prepared and could guarantee production, it is worth remembering that the government has not even bid for the purchase of syringes and needles. And, if all of this were activated, we would not have a task force today to guarantee the massive vaccination of our population”.
To make matters worse, after the ministry of health announced the purchase of 46 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine produced by a Chinese laboratory in partnership with the Brazilian Butantan Institute, Bolsonaro said he would not allow the deal to be concluded, based on ideological prejudices that the president places above the lives of Brazilians.
It is important to remember that among developing countries, Brazil is one of the few to have a productive and technological base in vaccines today. Two of the world's largest producers are in Brazil: the Butantan Institute (São Paulo) and the Bio-Manguinhos Institute, at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Rio de Janeiro).
The problem is political. The Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) has been slow in endorsing vaccines that have already been confirmed as safe and effective against the disease. Bolsonaro has rigged Anvisa by promoting military personnel to its board of directors.
In the background of this dispute are the intense feuds between the governor of São Paulo, João Doria, of the centre-right PSDB, and Bolsonaro. Dorio plans to run for president in 2022 and has used the vaccine as a political springboard. He has announced for January the beginning of a vaccination programme to the population of São Paulo using the CoronaVac vaccine.
The instability of the scenario has caused a weekly march of governors and mayors to Brasília to pressure the government to speed up the vaccination policy.
In the midst of this, social movements led by the main confederation of trade unions (CUT), PSOL, the Workers’ Party (PT) and Rede Solidária (a united front of non-governmental organisations) have launched a campaign stating that leaving Brazil at the end of the queue is a crime, and demanding vaccines for all.
“We cannot remain indifferent when we watch Bolsonaro sabotaging the vaccine and still saying that he will not be vaccinated, raising suspicions about the effectiveness of the immunization and still defending a term of responsibility that people would have to sign before being vaccinated", said Amarildo Ceni from CUT in an article published in Brasil de Fato.
Amarildo believes that without mobilising society nothing will change. In addition to the mass vaccination, he says, it is necessary to defend SUS (Brazil’s national health service). Brazil has a national immunisation program which is an international reference. In the 2009-2010 N1H1 flu pandemic under a PT government Brazil successfully vaccinated over 100 million people.
The core belief of the campaign is that
“health is a universal good and a constitutional right. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of these principles is clear, but it is also clear that the race to develop vaccines has become a race for profit, which can violate the right to health and cost millions of lives.”
One of the objectives of the campaign is to pressurise congress to approve the #PL1462/2020, a law which would prevent “the creation of monopolies for technologies, inputs and treatments against Covid-19 and possible new pandemics.”
PSOL is demanding that vaccines that have been certified by international organisations be used within 72 hours for emergency use, even in the event of Anvisa's omission.
What is clear is that Brazil has the technological and productive infrastructure and experience to carry out a successful vaccination programme. What it lacks is political leadership from its government. Only with mobilisation will Brazilians succeed in the battle against Covid-19 and any future pandemic.
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Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.
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