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Health Ministry to roll out bivalent Covid boosters in February

Euan Marshall
Jan 26, 2023 15:45

Brazil’s Health Ministry has announced its Covid vaccination schedule for 2023, which includes the use of Pfizer’s bivalent boosters as early as February 27.

The bivalent immunizer provides protection against the original coronavirus strain as well as Omicron subvariants, being designed as a single-dose booster.

Provided they have already received at least two doses of Covid vaccines, citizens over the age of 70, immunosuppressed individuals, and members of indigenous, riverine, or quilombo communities will be the first to receive the bivalent shots, starting at the end of next month. 

The next groups to receive boosters will be, in order, people between the ages of 60 and 69, pregnant and postpartum women, and healthcare workers.

The goal is to vaccinate 90 percent of these groups before offering the jabs to the broader public.

Brazil regulator greenlights Covid booster for children and teens

Cedê Silva
Dec 07, 2022 17:04 (Updated: Dec 08, 2022 16:45)

Anvisa, the Brazilian federal health regulator, on Monday authorized a single booster dose of Pfizer’s monovalent Covid vaccine for children and teenagers aged 5 or more.

For over a year, booster shots have been offered to adults. Separately, the Health Ministry in May recommended the booster shot for teenagers only. Municipalities nationwide have since been giving teens the booster.

Teenagers aged 12 and over are immunized with the same Pfizer formulation given to adults — the one with a purple cap. Children aged five to 11 are given a smaller dosage in a vial with an orange cap.

With Anvisa’s decision, teens aged 12 and up can get one of the recently approved bivalent formulations as a booster shot, or receive a third shot of the original formulation. Unlike in the U.S., use of the original monovalent vaccines as boosters was not revoked.

According to official data, only about 50 percent of Brazilian children aged five to 11 have received two jabs and thus would be eligible for a booster. Six months ago, the rate was 42 percent. Among teens, the vaccination rate is higher, with around 70 percent having received two jabs of the Covid vaccine.

In July, The Brazilian Report reported that the Health Ministry had still not shipped enough vaccines to immunize all children aged five to 11. Since then, Covid vaccination for children has remained at a very slow pace.

Prosecutors tell Brazilian government to purchase Covid vaccines for children

Amanda Audi
Dec 05, 2022 12:18 (Updated: Dec 05, 2022 12:19)

Federal prosecutors recommended the purchase, within 20 days, of Covid vaccines for children aged six months or more. In a document sent to the Health Ministry, they warn officials that “the delay or insufficiency in the supply of doses exposes children to the risk of death or serious sequelae.”

The recommendation comes as several cities record shortages of pediatric doses, and Brazil experiences a rise in new cases and deaths as new Omicron sub-variants spread across the country.

According to the federally-run Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, more than 400 children were hospitalized due to complications from the disease, and at least 17 died between September 4 and October 1 alone.

Pediatric vaccines by Sinovac and Pfizer received approval from health regulators in July and September, respectively. But, after four months, less than 6 percent of children aged between 3 and 4 years received both doses. With low stocks, some cities, such as Rio de Janeiro, suspended the vaccination of children.

The government made it difficult to access medicines, only recommending shots to children with pre-existing conditions. Organizations of Brazilian pediatricians have recommended any limitations be lifted.

The government’s last announcement on the issue came on November 10, announcing the distribution of 1 million jabs. Though prosecutors say the number is insufficient to immunize even the target demographic of children with pre-existing conditions.

Brazil life expectancy up to 77 after pandemic dip

Euan Marshall
Nov 25, 2022 10:38 (Updated: Nov 25, 2022 10:39)

The average life expectancy at birth in Brazil was 77 years in 2021, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). 

This comes as some relief to the country, as the devastation of the Covid pandemic in 2020 was so profound that it caused the first drop since World War II.

The health crisis reduced average Brazilian life expectancy by 1.94 years in 2020, with the drop even more pronounced in some states. In Brasília, Amazonas, Amapá, Roraima, and Espírito Santo, people were expected to live three years shorter than 2019 averages. Life expectancy in Amazonas was set to hit 73 in 2020, but it ended up as just 69.5 years.

While it is normal for longevity to fall amid a health crisis of the proportions of Covid, there were fears among experts that Brazil would take some time to recover from the pandemic in statistical terms.

However, the decreasing lethality of new variants and subvariants has allowed the health system to stand firm.

Severe Covid cases up in 15 Brazilian states

Euan Marshall
Nov 24, 2022 10:21 (Updated: Nov 24, 2022 10:23)

The most recent InfoGripe report by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a federally-run biological institute, shows that severe cases of Covid are rising in 15 out of Brazil’s 27 states.

The figures are in line with recent nationwide findings, showing an overall increase in Covid cases. Federal health regulator Anvisa responded to the uptick on Tuesday by reinstating requirements for mask use in airports and on aircraft and granting emergency use authorization to two bivalent vaccines manufactured by Pfizer.

InfoGripe’s figures cover the last six weeks and indicate increases in severe cases in Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, the Federal District, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pará, Paraíba, Piauí, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio de Janeiro, Roraima, Santa Catarina, and São Paulo.

Upticks were also observed in 17 state capitals, including Brazil’s most populous cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

A survey from the Brazilian diagnostic medicine association Abramed showed that, between November 5 and 11, the percentage of positive Covid tests in the private healthcare network was 39.9 percent — up from 23.1 percent one week earlier. 

Furthermore, almost three times as many tests were carried out between these two weeks.

Brazil grants emergency authorization to Pfizer’s bivalent vaccines

Cedê Silva
Nov 23, 2022 14:36

Anvisa, the Brazilian federal health regulator, on Tuesday granted emergency authorization to two formulations of Pfizer’s Covid bivalent vaccines.

The BA.1 and BA.4/B4.5 formulations were designed to better match the circulating Omicron variants of the novel coronavirus. Pfizer had requested authorization for each bivalent vaccine back in August and September, respectively.

The vaccines are called “bivalent” because they contain two messenger RNA (mRNA) components of the SARS-CoV-2 virus: the original formulation and one targeting at least one variant.

The new formulations were approved as a booster in people aged 12 and over. Unlike in the U.S., the use of the original monovalent vaccines as boosters was not revoked.

The Health Ministry told The Brazilian Report it would request batches of the new formulations from Pfizer, given that the current contract includes the shipment of the updated boosters. The ministry did not provide a deadline nor specified quantities of the new jabs.

In a statement to the press, Pfizer said it estimates the BA.1 and BA.4/BA.5 boosters will be shipped to Brazil “in the next few weeks.” The bivalent doses are supplied in vials with a gray cap, as opposed to the purple cap used in the original formulation from late 2020.

According to official data, Brazil has applied over 491 million Covid vaccine doses, including over 200 million Pfizer jabs.

Separately, on Tuesday also, Anvisa reinstated a mask mandate for passengers on flights and in airports.

Brazil reinstates mask mandate for planes and airports after Covid spike

Cedê Silva
Nov 23, 2022 11:09 (Updated: Nov 23, 2022 15:59)

Anvisa, the Brazilian federal health regulator, on Tuesday reinstated a mask mandate for passengers on flights and in airports, which had been lifted in August. The new rules enter into force on November 25.

The reinstatement of the mask mandate was justified by a recent increase in new Covid cases and deaths. In the week of November 6-12, the number of cases jumped by 134 percent, while new deaths went up by 24 percent from the previous week.

The rolling average of daily Covid deaths that week was 45. The average was 214 when the mask mandate was lifted back in August.

InfoTracker, an online panel run by two public São Paulo universities, had projected that transmission rates would increase by November 15, Brazil’s Republic Day and a federal holiday. Official figures confirm the forecast.

A Friday report by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a federal biological institute, showed an upward trend in new Covid cases in 12 states, including highly-populated ones such as Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, and São Paulo.

Alex Campos, one of Anvisa’s five board members, also highlighted the spread of new subvariants (such as BQ.1 and BE.9), which could evade part of vaccine protections. Separately, the agency on Tuesday authorized two bivalent formulations of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine that tackle new versions of the coronavirus.

The mask mandate also includes vehicles used in airports, such as shuttle buses. Airlines can still offer onboard service, and passengers will be allowed to remove facemasks to eat and drink. Children under 3 are not required to wear masks.

Brazilian regulators clear pharmacy sales of Pfizer Covid drug

TBR Newsroom
Nov 21, 2022 16:38

Anvisa, Brazil’s federal health regulatory agency, on Monday cleared the sale of Pfizer’s pills for treating Covid. The drug, sold under the brand name Paxlovid, will require a doctor’s prescription — and Pfizer must observe provision requirements to the public healthcare system.

Regulators also extended Paxlovid’s expiration date to 18 months after production instead of 12 months.

In a statement, Anvisa said its decision to facilitate access to the Covid drug was influenced by the current epidemiological situation in Brazil, “with the spread of new Omicron subvariants and the rise of case numbers.” The country’s seven-day rolling average of new Covid cases has quadrupled in the seven days to Sunday, hitting 15,500. The data doesn’t include figures from six states.

Pfizer obtained emergency-use authorization to sell Paxlovid back in March of this year. The drug gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on December 22, 2021, for patients aged 12 and over.

Meiruze Freitas, an Anvisa board member and the case’s rapporteur, said Paxlovid sales in the private market will increase access to Covid treatments, since the drug must be taken within five days after the onset of symptoms. 

“Early diagnosis and hospital care, when necessary, are important to prevent the disease from progressing into severe cases,” she told her peers. Ms. Freitas also reiterated that treatment does not replace vaccination. “Vaccination remains the best strategy to avoid Covid, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

Over 80 percent of the Brazilian population has completed its first vaccination cycle. These high rates came despite the government’s conscious efforts to stall rollouts (which included the president stalling on vaccine deals and spreading misinformation on its possible side-effects). 

Only half of the country has taken booster shots, and rollouts for children have encountered many hiccups.

A study published on Monday in The Lancet Regional Health Americas journal finds that “an additional 47,000 lives could have been saved had the Brazilian government started the vaccination program earlier.”