Brazil’s vaccination program is a success because of Brazilians, not Bolsonaro

Since January 17, when nurse Monica Calanzans became the first person to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in Brazil, social media networks were swept with waves of emotion and hope.

Not long after that day, I remember tweeting that I’d pay for a 24-hour pay-per-view channel that simply showed Brazilians getting vaccinated. Seeing the procession of people getting jabs in their arms, hugging nurses, taking photos, and praying, it was emotionally overwhelming for a great deal of the population.

Indeed, the country had a long path to tread before reaching that moment. During the pandemic, the Health Ministry and President Jair Bolsonaro committed a series of gross mistakes that experts say caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Besides playing down the severity of the disease and encouraging people to break social isolation rules, the government also oversaw massive delays in purchasing vaccines and planning the nationwide rollout.

With a large public clamor for vaccines, Brazil’s states had to take matters into their own hands, snapping up doses without depending on the federal government. This, in turn, made Brazil’s path toward vaccination decentralized, muddled, and uneven.

President Bolsonaro did his best to cast doubt over the efficacy of vaccines, stressing to the population that shots would not be made mandatory. He himself claims he has not been vaccinated, but after he chose to make his vaccine records confidential for the next 100 years, we will never know if that statement is true — at least not in this life.

But amid this vaccine skepticism coming from Brazil’s head of state, the immunization campaign in the country has reached important milestones, and Brazilians have shown up to get shots in their droves.

Ten months since the beginning of the vaccination campaign, there is a higher share of fully immunized adults in Brazil than there are in the U.S., United Kingdom, and several European countries. Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, has fully vaccinated an astonishing 100 percent of its adults.

And the credit for this doesn’t go to Jair Bolsonaro, it goes to the Brazilian people.