Senators gear up for Health Minister deposition in Covid hearings

Health Minister covid hearings
Senators during the testimony of former Health Minister Nelson Teich. Photo: Jefferson Rudy/SF/ACS/CC BY 4.0

After hearing the depositions of two of President Jair Bolsonaro’s former Health Ministers, the Senate’s Covid inquiry will question current minister Marcelo Queiroga tomorrow, as well as head of Brazil’s health regulator Antônio Barra Torres.

With the testimonies of Luiz Henrique Mandetta yesterday and Nelson Teich earlier today, the hearings committee members feel they have sufficient evidence to affirm Mr. Bolsonaro put pressure on the Health Ministry to endorse antimalarial drug chloroquine for the treatment of Covid-19 — despite a lack of any scientific evidence proving its efficacy. 

The opposition’s strategy is now clear, planning to grill Mr. Queiroga on the Health Ministry’s protocol for chloroquine use, introduced by his predecessor, Eduardo Pazuello.

On May 20 of last year, Mr. Pazuello’s Health Ministry issued a recommendation for the use of chloroquine at all phases of coronavirus treatment. Marcelo Queiroga took office on March 23 and has not revoked the guidance.

This afternoon, Nelson Teich confirmed that he left the Health Ministry after one month due to pressure regarding the endorsement of chloroquine. He added that he felt he did not have the autonomy to manage his own department. 

When Antônio Barra Torres — head of health regulator Anvisa — takes the stand tomorrow, he will face questions regarding the agency’s analysis of vaccines. Anvisa recently rejected import requests for the Russian-made Sputnik V immunizer, which caused a stir among the Brazilian public and state governors. Meanwhile, senators are unlikely to overlook Mr. Barra Torres’ appearance in a public demonstration alongside President Bolsonaro in March of last year, where neither wore masks. 

At the end of today’s session, the Senate committee finalized the inquiry schedule for next week. On Tuesday, former Communication Secretary Fábio Wajngarten will be brought in to depose, as well as two representatives from pharmaceutical firm Pfizer.

Wednesday will see representatives of biological institutes Butantan and Fiocruz take the stand, before ex-Foreign Minister Eduardo Araújo comes under the microscope on Thursday. Later that day, the inquiry will hear a Brazilian representative of the Sputnik V vaccine.