Covid hearings to question health regulator head

Anvisa boss Antonio Barra Torres
Anvisa boss Antonio Barra Torres. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr

Antonio Barra Torres, head of Brazil’s federal health regulator Anvisa, will speak before the Senate’s Covid hearings committee today. He will face questions on the following topics:

  • Alleged political pressure from the government in the process to grant regulatory approval to coronavirus vaccines, particularly the Chinese-made CoronaVac, now manufactured in São Paulo and which President Jair Bolsonaro criticized on many occasions.
  • The existence of an unofficial group of health advisers trying to direct Brazil’s pandemic response. According to former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, aides from outside the department pushed for a change to the label of antimalarial drug chloroquine, adding recommendations for treatment against Covid-19.
  • The recent controversy surrounding the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. Anvisa recently rejected import requests for the immunizer, citing flaws in how the vaccine works and a lack of necessary documentation.

In March of last year, Mr. Barra Torres accompanied President Bolsonaro in protests against isolation measures issued by states, raising questions about his autonomy to lead Brazil’s health regulatory agency. 

However, political observers believe he has distanced himself from the president somewhat, as Anvisa has since made decisions unfavorable to Mr. Bolsonaro, such as granting approval for CoronaVac and denying it for Sputnik V.