Brazil cancels controversial Covaxin deal

yearly vaccination bolsonaro
Marcelo Queiroga (right) and Federal Comptroller General Wagner Rosário. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr

Flanked by the government’s Comptroller General, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga announced that his department will not proceed with a USD 300 million contract to purchase 20 million doses of the Indian-made Covaxin vaccine. The deal was riddled with suspicious clauses and sparked one of the most severe corruption scandals the Bolsonaro administration has faced so far.

The government indicated that it could walk away from the deal a month ago, when it suspended the contract to carry out an audit. Multiple accountability agencies began scrutinizing the terms of the deal after a congressman accused the government’s House whip of interfering to favor Covaxin’s proxy in Brazil, a shady company called Precisa Medicamentos.

Precisa’s owners are under investigation for corruption and accusations of selling medicine to the Health Ministry and failing to deliver supplies. Comptroller General Wagner Rosário said his department found no evidence of overpricing or corruption, but concluded that Precisa used forged documents in the process. That led federal regulators Anvisa to revoke emergency authorization for the import of Covaxin.

Mr. Rosário added that his department will continue investigating Precisa.

In order to avoid losing even more popularity due to vaccine scandals, President Bolsonaro has stressed that the government never actually made any payment for the Covaxin shots. While technically true, that was only the case because wrongdoings were flagged before the contract went through.