Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday rejected the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential vaccine against the coronavirus being developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech and tested in a state governed by a political rival.
“The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” Bolsonaro said on his social media channels, adding that the vaccine has not yet completed testing, which is the case with all potential vaccines for the virus. “My decision is to not purchase such a vaccine.”
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello had announced the purchase Tuesday in a meeting with Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a foe of Bolsonaro’s whose state is participating in the vaccine’s development through its Butantan Institute. The cost of the acquisition was estimated at 2 billion reais (USD 360 million). “Butantan’s vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” Pazuello said.
A Brazilian Health Ministry document issued Monday and shared by Sao Paulo’s government Wednesday confirmed that the ministry had put in writing its intention to buy the doses of the “Butantan Vaccine-Sinovac/Covid-19” for an estimated price of $10.30 each.
The document made explicit the purchase was contingent upon the health regulator’s approval. Bolsonaro told journalists that protocol will be canceled.
In June, Brazil’s government announced a deal with Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine.
Bolsonaro and Doria have had an adversarial relationship since the start of the pandemic, with each taking opposite stances regarding stay-at-home recommendations and restrictions on activity. The governor, whose state is Brazil’s most populous, heeded the counsel of public health experts and adopted such measures, which the president blasted, arguing the economic fallout could kill more than the disease.
During a brief news conference in the Sao Paulo countryside, Bolsonaro shot back at Doria, accusing the governor of playing politics by hurrying out a vaccine in an effort to buoy his popularity. The president also accused his adversaries, including Doria, of “promoting a narrative of terrorism since the start of the pandemic.”
Earlier, the executive secretary of Brazil’s Health Ministry said in a televised statement that there had been a misunderstanding in the announcement about buying the CoronaVac vaccines.
“There is no intention to buy vaccines from China,” said Antonio Elcio Franco, who added there will be only “a Brazilian vaccine” made at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. Those shots, however, would still be based upon Sinovac’s research.
At least two governors, including Flavio Dino in Maranhao state, said they would fight Bolsonaro’s administration if it refused authorization for a vaccine that works, whatever its provenance.
The experimental coronavirus vaccine CoronaVac appeared to be safe in a late-stage clinical trial in Brazil, preliminary results showed.