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Oxford? China? Brazil’s first Covid-19 vaccine is likely to be Russian

. Oct 27, 2020
vaccine sputnik russia russian brazil Sputnik Vaccine, in Tomsk. Photo: Dmitriy Kandinskiy/Shutterstock

The story grabbing all of the headlines in Brazilian politics this last week has been the dispute between President Jair Bolsonaro and São Paulo Governor João Doria over the Chinese-made CoronaVac coronavirus vaccine. While Mr. Doria — the head of Brazil’s most populous and wealthiest state — has promised vaccination to his entire constituency, the Brazilian head of state has been adamant that the country will not fund any vaccines from China, nor will he allow mandatory inoculation. Indeed, the federal government has been keener on supporting the vaccine being produced by Oxford University and British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca.

</p> <p>However, despite the back and forth between vaccines from China and the United Kingdom, the first Covid-19 vaccine to be distributed to Brazilians is likely to be Russian-made, and will come from a factory on the outskirts of the capital Brasília.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/4135414"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Russia leading the vaccine race?</h2> <p>Brazil&#8217;s &#8220;<a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/27/health/russia-coronavirus-vaccine-sputnik-v-reality-check/index.html">first coronavirus vaccine</a>&#8221; is the result of an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). Manufacturing is set to begin in the second fortnight of November, with vaccines being administered en masse as of January, depending on the efficacy of clinical trials in Brazil and the legal hurdles imposed by health regulators.</p> <p>Located in a development park in Santa Maria, one of Brasília&#8217;s satellite cities, <a href="https://www.uniaoquimica.com.br/en/manufacturing-units/brasilia-bthek-df/">Bthek Biotecnologia</a> will be the first unit in the country to manufacture doses of the so-called Sputnik V vaccine. The contract with the RDIF also includes technology transfer provisions, meaning the vaccine will be manufactured and distributed throughout Brazil and neighboring countries.&nbsp;</p> <p>Developed initially by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Sputnik V was <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/08/11/russia-announces-first-covid-19-vaccine-and-brazil-could-produce-it/">registered in Russia on August 11</a>, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine to obtain state authorization for its application. The global scientific community was taken aback by the decision, as the developers did not present evidence of the vaccine&#8217;s efficacy and safety.</p> <p>Around a month after the Russian government gave its O.K. to Sputnik V, initial clinical results on the vaccine were published in scientific journal The Lancet. According to the study, the vaccination method obtained an immune response to combat the novel coronavirus within an interval of 21 days and did not cause severe side effects to the study participants. However, phase-three trials — a prerequisite for vaccines in Brazil to obtain formal registration from health regulators — have yet to be completed.</p> <p>Regardless, the RDIF signed an agreement last month with the state government of Paraná to test and produce the vaccine in Brazil. In August, União Química — the owner of Bthek Biotecnologia — finalized its own technology transfer deal with the RDIF and Gamaleya.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Nationwide production</h2> <p>The plan for rolling out Sputnik V is for Brazil&#8217;s Federal District to serve as RDIF&#8217;s industrial headquarters in Latin America. The state government of Bahia has also signed an agreement to carry out phase-three tests and intends to purchase 50 million doses of the vaccine.</p> <p>Health authorities in Bahia declared, in a statement, that &#8220;the Russian sovereign fund and the Gamaleya Institute are negotiating directly with [health regulators] Anvisa with regard to data from prior trials.&#8221;</p> <p>Once Sputnik V is duly registered in Brazil, Bthek Biotecnologia is expected to ramp up its production, according to the group&#8217;s international director Rogério Rosso.</p> <p>“We are following the standard timetable of pharmaceutical firms, of receiving inputs, pre-trials. The next step is pilot production, based on Anvisa protocols. This should be done in the coming days,&#8221; said Mr. Rosso, a former member of Congress and ex-governor of Brasília. After the study, União Química will issue a formal request to Anvisa to begin trials. </p> <h2>Working with the Russians</h2> <p>On Thursday, União Química received part of the inputs required for producing Sputnik V. In September, those in charge of producing the vaccine in Brazil went to Russia to meet the scientists involved in developing Sputnik V and to visit the existing production line in Moscow. A representative of the Gamaleya Institute will land in Brasília next week to guide the local production team and take part in verifying the laboratory&#8217;s equipment.</p> <p>Mr. Rosso says that the Brazilian laboratory has signed a non-disclosure agreement that forbids the company from leaking any technical or scientific information regarding the vaccine.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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