Brazil hit the sad half-million mark for Covid deaths on Saturday, a toll just behind the United States, which shows little sign of easing. Yet residents are rejecting vaccines they deem inferior in favor of hard-to-find vaccines. Pfizer Inc.
In Sao Paulo, people demand injections from American society in public clinics and often go out if there are none. Some health centers have put up signs saying “no Pfizer injections” to save time. Many vaccination centers are empty, and the few that have Pfizer have massive queues.
Maressa Tavares, a 29-year-old teacher, could have been shot two weeks ago in Rio de Janeiro. But at her father’s request, she stands firm for Pfizer. “For me it didn’t make much of a difference as to which one to take, but my dad has very strong beliefs,” she said.
Such reluctance is hampering a vaccination campaign already plagued by shortages and delays. Failure to control the disease would not only harm Brazilians, who are dying at the rate of around 2,000 a day, but also threaten a global resurgence of the pandemic if the nation of 213 million people becomes fertile ground for new strains.
Sinovac from China and England AstraZeneca Plc accounts for around 96% of available shots in the country, compared to just 4% for Pfizer, according to government data.
“500,000 lives lost by the pandemic which affects our Brazil and the whole world”, declared the Minister of Health Marcelo Queiroga in a tweet. “I am working tirelessly to vaccinate all Brazilians as soon as possible and to change this scenario which has tormented us for more than a year. “
While doctors say residents should get Regardless of which vaccine is available, Sinovac’s CoronaVac has a much lower efficacy rate than other vaccines, and President Jair Bolsonaro criticized its “origin” and initially refused to buy it. Astra has seen its use suffer worldwide thanks to rare blood clots, side effects and still pending approval in the US
“At first people were afraid to get CoronaVac, because it’s Chinese, and now it’s Astra because of the reactions,” said Luiz Carlos de Souza e Silva, a nurse who helps vaccinate people in a hospital. Rio public clinic. “People are really badly informed, the government has taken too long to come up with a vaccination plan, it creates a lot of fear. “
The hesitation is not uniquely Brazilian. Amesh Adalja, who studies pandemics at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said the smallpox vaccine had been around since the creation of the smallpox vaccine in 1796. More than two centuries later, US officials promised everything from fries to lottery prizes to persuade people. In Europe, Astra use has stalled after reports of blood clots, and Uruguay even donated doses that are approaching expiration dates because people didn’t want them.
But nowhere are vaccines needed more than in Brazil. The country has distributed more than 86 million shots, but that covers less than 30% of the population with a first dose and only 12% with two, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Adalja said disinformation on social media, combined with “denial of the highest levels of government,” hampered Brazil’s campaign.
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If the virus continues to spread unchecked, Adalja said, new variants could emerge. Many have already emerged, including the highly contagious gamma, which was first documented in Brazil in November and has since spread to 64 countries. Vaccines appear to be effective against these variants, but countries with low vaccination rates could plunge deeper into the crisis.
In Brazil, contagion remains high and could worsen with the onset of winter in the southern hemisphere. Some cities and states are reinstating the closures, but after about 15 months of quarantines, these measures have become less effective.
“The virus is circulating like crazy, many people are infected, few are vaccinated, and especially just with the first doses,” said Atila Iamarino, a biologist trained at the University of Sao Paulo and Yale and specializing in virology. “Choosing to wait for this or that vaccine is extremely dangerous. “
The government did not launch an organized campaign to promote vaccination and masks until May, more than a year after the arrival of the virus. Bolsonaro played down the crisis throughout. Just last week, he starred in a motorcycle rally in his honor in Sao Paulo, criticized the closures and ordered the health ministry to investigate the possibility of making masks optional.
Read more: Brazil let 70 million shots escape and sealed its Covid fate
Unlike the United States, which previously relied on multiple vaccines, Brazil chose to purchase only Astra, which has an efficacy rate of around 63% against symptomatic illnesses. After delays, governors and mayors demanded their own contracts. As options ran out, the government eventually struck a deal for CoronaVac, a shot with an efficiency rate of around 51% that Bolsonaro has publicly disowned on several occasions.
After being criticized in a Congressional inquiry for not purchasing Pfizer vaccines that are 95% effective, the president has begun to highlight new batch arrivals – though he still questions the science behind them. underlies. He said on Thursday that getting sick was a more effective means of protection and that he had not yet received a vaccine himself.
Experts say even less effective shots are worth taking, but Bolsonaro’s mistrust is reflected among his supporters. Edilson Pessanha, father of Maressa Tavares, delayed his vaccination by about three months until he could receive the American vaccine. He said he feared CoronaVac.
“People prefer excellence,” said the 62-year-old farmer. “I’m doing research and I want what’s best for me, what’s best for our country, and that’s what’s happening. Bolsonaro is doing what’s best for us.
Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist who has become a vocal critic of the government’s handling of the pandemic and testified before Congress, calls these people “vaccine sommeliers.”“It’s the government’s job to tell people they shouldn’t choose, they’re all efficient and the ‘right’ is whatever you take,” Pasternak said in an interview.
However, the pace has picked up recently. After a sharp drop in May, the average number of daily doses administered climbed to about 984,000 in June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The progress made markets more optimistic about the prospects for Latin America’s largest economy, causing stocks to soar. More doses should arrive in the second half of the year.
But for now, experts see Brazil stranded as the virus rages on. The country added 82,288 infections and 2,301 deaths in the past 24 hours. With more than 17.8 million confirmed cases, it ranks third in infections, behind the United States and India. This is the second of the deaths, reaching 500,000 less than two months after crossing the 400,000 mark.
Fiocruz, an institution that monitors the disease, called the situation “critical” in a report on Thursday. He said that the average age of deaths fell below 60 for the first time, months after similar movements of cases and hospitalizations. Today, more than half of deaths occur in people between the ages of 20 and 59.
“It’s absurd that we look at these daily death numbers and think it’s OK – it’s not OK,” Pasternak said. “A lot of people see other countries going back to normal and think we are there as well, but that is clearly not the case. “
– With the help of Simone Preissler Iglesias, Shannon Sims, Martha Viotti Beck, Rebecca Torrence, Maria Eloisa Capurro and Fernando Travaglini
(Updates with the daily number of cases and deaths in the penultimate paragraph. A previous version of this story corrected the reference to Uruguay in the ninth paragraph)