Every night, Brazilian news broadcasters launch their government’s confused coronavirus response.
“Tomorrow, the Mexican government will start vaccinating health professionals,” Brazil’s main news bulletin, Jornal Nacional, reported last Wednesday. “This morning 25 EU countries had their first day of mass vaccination,” he said on Monday. On Tuesday, the good news came from next door: “Today Argentina started to vaccinate its citizens.”
In Brazil, meanwhile, growing confusion and anger surrounds the start of a vaccination program that is supposed to save South America’s largest country from an epidemic that has killed nearly 200,000 people and harmed its economy.
“When will the Covid vaccine arrive in Brazil?” Brasilia’s leading newspaper, Correio Braziliense, questions its first page. No one, not even President Jair Bolsonaro – who says he will refuse to be vaccinated – has had a clear answer.
“We are being left behind, even compared to other Latin American countries like Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica. It’s really worrying, ”said Mariana Varella, public health writer.
“Their behavior has been a mixture of incompetence and neglect,” said Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist who is one of the most vocal scientific critics of Bolsonaro’s actions.
“If you had asked me at the start of the pandemic, I would have said that Brazil was perfectly placed to be the first Latin American country to vaccinate its population. We are the country with the largest infrastructure for vaccination programs in terms of vaccination stations, our “cold chain” distribution network and transport. ”
“But there’s no point having all of this if you don’t have a vaccine,” added Pasternak, who heads the Question of Science Institute. “All these other countries have planned well. Brazil did not.
Experts say Brazil’s hesitation – a shock given its internationally respected vaccination schedule – is further evidence of Bolsonaro’s clumsy response to what he calls a “little flu.”
“The government underestimated the pandemic from the start. Despite all the evidence, I don’t think they thought it would last so many months, kill so many people, or have such a big economic impact, ”said Varella, who edits the Portal Drauzio Varella website.
Varella said Bolsonaro’s “primary mistake” had been to pack the health ministry – now headed by an active duty general – with military officials “who knew nothing about public health” and had no not getting the right vaccine contracts.
“A lot of it is a matter of incompetence and just real ignorance,” Varella said.
“We all have these wonderful examples of Brazilian public health: the SUS [national health service], the national vaccination program, the treatment of HIV / AIDS – so many programs that are world references – and yet, suddenly, we see the Ministry of Health being dismantled.
Bolsonaro, a former army captain, is increasingly coming under attack for kicking.
“Several countries, including in Latin America, are now vaccinating their citizens against Covid-19. Where is the vaccine for Brazilians? “Bolsonaro’s former ally, Sergio Moro, required, asking: “Is there a president in Brasilia?” ”
Another rival, Rodrigo Maia, said the Brazilians were “starting to panic”, calling the delay “Bolsonaro’s biggest political mistake”. Polls, however, suggest that a significant portion of the population still supports Bolsonaro.
The delay largely relates to the fact that Brazil has placed its hopes on the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine and not buying the Pfizer / BioNTech injections used in countries like Mexico and Chile. Until recently, the government also avoided the Chinese CoronaVac, with Bolsonaro blocking the purchase of 46 million snapshots for seemingly political reasons.
Critics say excessive dependency has put lives at risk by delaying vaccination efforts for Brazil’s 212 million citizens. “I understand that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should not be Brazil’s main bet for immunizing the entire population due to the price and logistical difficulties. But we could at least have bought some of these vaccines for certain priority groups in the big cities – and Brazil has ignored that, ”Varella said.
There was a boost for Bolsonaro on Wednesday after the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in the UK. A health official said Brazil could start vaccinating between Jan.20 and Feb.10.
Yet there are many who doubt these deadlines and question the fact that Brazil has failed to source sufficient quantities. As more than 1,000 new deaths were confirmed on Tuesday, the Health Ministry was reported to have purchased less than 8m of the 331 million needles needed.
“We will not manage to vaccinate the entire population next year – it is now pretty much a consensus … so the pandemic will not be under control and we will face all the economic, political and social consequences,” warned Varella. “I sincerely believe that 2021 will be an even worse year than 2020.”
Bolsonaro denies hanging out. “I’m not bothered,” he said on Saturday, later saying he was “in a hurry to get a safe, effective and quality vaccine.”
Pasternak said she felt envy, but no surprise as she watched other nations vaccinate and their leaders scramble.
“The federal government’s position corresponds to the position it has taken since the start of the pandemic, which is one of denial. If you can’t see the gravity of the situation we’re going through and think that social distancing and masks are unnecessary… why would you want to invest a lot in a vaccine? ”