States allowed to purchase vaccines before regulatory approval

States allowed to purchase vaccines before regulatory clearance
Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski wants states to have an easier path towards buying a Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: Carlos Humberto/ SCO/ STF

Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski issued an injunction allowing state administrations to purchase Covid-19 vaccines even before they are granted clearance from federal regulators — providing they have been approved by international agencies.

The ruling is part of a lawsuit filed by the northeastern state of Maranhão, and enforces rules already established by a law Congress passed back in February. The legislation states that health regulator Anvisa has 72 hours to analyze any vaccine cleared in Japan, the U.S., Europe, or China — a lack of response from Anvisa will be interpreted as tacit approval.

The government has released a nationwide vaccination plan, but it lacks in detail. Moreover, President Jair Bolsonaro has spread skepticism about vaccines — fueling fears that he could interfere with regulators to stall clearance processes.

Brazil’s legislative branch goes into recess on December 18 and will only resume activities in February. In that period, only Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux can strike down injunctions — which will be voted on by the full 11-justice bench after the recess.

Vaccines reach the Supreme Court

The injunction comes as the Supreme Court votes whether or not Covid-19 vaccines should be made mandatory. That is already the case for other vaccines in Brazil (one cannot access social security benefits, become a civil servant, or enroll in public education without being up to date with their shots), but President Jair Bolsonaro has turned the issue into a culture war

He said on multiple occasions that “nobody can force anybody to take a vaccine,” and has been a true misinformation agent on coronavirus-related issues.

Justice Lewandowski believes authorities can impose sanctions on people who refuse to take the vaccine — and wants states and cities to have power over their own constituencies in the absence of federal regulation. While the trial is not over, a majority of justices have voted in favor of that understanding.

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