Brazilians looking a vaccine horse in the mouth

The old adage that “beggars can’t be choosers” does not translate well into Brazilian Portuguese, neither in linguistic nor practical terms. Amid swathes of anti-vaccine propaganda circulated on far-right social media in the country, blanket skepticism of immunizers has trickled down to the general population with significant — not necessarily anti vax — parts of the population refusing to vaccinate based simply on the brand of immunizer offered to them.

Of the four vaccines available to the Brazilian population, the reputation of two have been stained by online disinformation campaigns. For AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine, the doubts surround its perceived high rate of side effects, which rarely surpass a mild flu or aches and pains. For Sinovac’s CoronaVac — the most widely available immunizer in the country — the public perception is that it is a “weak” vaccine, only providing minimal protection against the coronavirus. 

Indeed, neither of these claims are supported by scientific evidence.

Brazil’s fastidious would-be vaccinators adopt a number of strategies to seek out their favored immunizer, from the most basic — bouncing between vaccination centers asking which brand they have in stock — to the more complex, building networks on WhatsApp Messenger advising their peers on the vaccines being administered at each health clinic.

In some cities, where the phenomenon of “vaccine sommeliers” has become more pressing, health authorities have decided that citizens requesting a particular brand of immunizer will be sent to the back of the vaccination queue.

With less than 14 percent of the population fully immunized, health experts urge that the best vaccine is the one that is available. 

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