The Brazilian push for a Covid-19 vaccine

. Jun 12, 2020
São Paulo teams up with Chinese lab in vaccine tests Image: Salomé Gloanec/TBR

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Today we’re covering Brazil’s latest involvement in promising Covid-19 vaccine trials. The return of shopping malls and fears of spreading the virus. São Paulo guards its most (in)famous statue from attack.

São Paulo teams up with Chinese lab in vaccine tests

São Paulo Governor João Doria announced on Thursday

that the state&#8217;s Butantan Biological Institute is teaming up with Sinovac Biotech, a privately held Beijing-based lab, to produce a Covid-19 vaccine. Mr. Doria claims the vaccine has entered its &#8220;final stage of testing&#8221; and that it could be available by June 2021. Roughly 9,000 volunteers are expected to join the trials.</p> <ul><li>This is the second vaccine project to be tested in the state of São Paulo. The other project, led by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca, will <a href="">carry out tests on 2,000 Brazilian volunteers</a> —&nbsp;all of whom come from the ranks of health workers.&nbsp;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Taking part in studies could mean Brazil will be one of the first countries to get the vaccine if it proves to be effective.</p> <ul><li>At this point, with states reopening before the coronavirus spread is controlled, Brazil sees itself in need of a scientific breakthrough to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The country leads the world in daily deaths and has reached 802,828 confirmed infections and 40,919 confirmed deaths.</li></ul> <p><strong>Cautious optimism. </strong>Sinovac Biotech became the first pharmaceutical company able to successfully protect animals from infection by the coronavirus, according to Science Mag. The company administered doses of their potential vaccine to eight rhesus macaques, before introducing the SARS-CoV-2 virus into their lungs three weeks later. None of the monkeys developed a full-blown infection, with those administered with the highest dosage having the best response.</p> <ul><li>Several of the animals given lower doses had a “viral blip” but also appeared to have gotten the infection under control, the Sinovac team reports in a paper published on April 19 on the preprint server bioRxiv. (A <a href="">peer-reviewed version</a> of the study was published on May 6 in Science.)</li><li>While the results seem promising, many experts are urging caution. Douglas Reed, a microbiology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, says the number of animals was too small to yield statistically significant results.</li></ul> <p><strong>Brazil-China.</strong> While the federal government has initiated spats with China in many respects, the São Paulo state government tries to get closer to Beijing. Last year, Mr. Doria opened a business bureau in the Asian country —&nbsp;and now tries to enhance cooperation ties with China.</p> <ul><li>That could be a risk. “States are in dire financial crisis and have little to no structure to stand tall at the negotiation table. That is an immense risk of <a href="">draconian deals</a>,” Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazilians 💚 shopping malls</h2> <p>Shopping malls reopened on Thursday in Brazil&#8217;s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. And people flocked to window shop, with big lines of consumers forming outside of these centers. Many high-end stores registered higher sales than on an average pre-pandemic day. Shopping malls can now legally operate between 6-10 am — or 4-8 pm — at 20 percent capacity. Cinemas, beauty salons, gyms, and food courts remain closed.</p> <ul><li>In the popular shopping district of Brás, in São Paulo’s city center, streets were busy and many people were clearly not observing social distancing. The region was as crowded as the leadup to Christmas — the use of protective masks was the only reminder that we are still living in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century.</li><li>According to Brazilian shopping malls association Abrasce, Brazil&#8217;s 577 malls have lost a combined BRL 25 billion (USD 5 billion) since the beginning of the pandemic —&nbsp;as many of them remained closed for as much as 83 days. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost and 10 percent of shops were permanently closed.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Experts have overwhelmingly opposed the reopening of shopping malls and street commerce, saying that it could spark a second wave of the outbreak — before the first wave has even ended.</p> <p><strong>Effects of a second wave.</strong> Another surge of the virus would lead to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths and have drastic effects on the economy. The OECD believes Brazilian GDP could contract as much as 9.1 percent in such a scenario, against 7.4 percent in the case of a single wave.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>On Thursday, stock markets fell around the world, partially due to the risks of a second global Covid-19 wave.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>São Paulo guarding its statues</h2> <p>As the world sees a wave of politically-charged attacks on public monuments considered to be symbols of racism or misogyny, authorities in São Paulo have placed a 24-hour guard on its infamous Borba Gato statue in the southern neighborhood of Santo Amaro.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>In 2016, the statue was &#8220;attacked&#8221; with paint.</li></ul> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="540" src="" alt="borba gato statue sao paulo" class="wp-image-42285" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Borba Gato statue, in São Paulo. Photo: Gustavo Vivancos/CC</figcaption></figure> <p><strong>Context.</strong> Borba Gato was a <em>Bandeirante</em> — literally, &#8220;flag-carrier&#8221; — explorers who helped the Portuguese Crown expand its inland dominion in Brazil. These fortune-seekers were notable for their brutality toward native populations —&nbsp;enslaving, raping, pillaging, or murdering them. They were also pivotal to extending the Brazilian territory beyond São Paulo. Without them, the lion&#8217;s share of what is now Brazil would have likely become a Spanish colony.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Despite the bloody past, the <em>Bandeirante </em>is considered a symbol of São Paulo&#8217;s &#8220;bullishness.&#8221;</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Brazil has never dealt with its past in an adequate manner. Slavery and the indigenous genocide are taboo, while prejudice against people of color remains a stain on our society. For many people, the <em>Bandeirante</em> represents a Euro-centric culture that whitewashes Brazil&#8217;s past.</p> <p><strong>Borba Gato.</strong> Inaugurated in 1963, the Borba Gato statue has always been controversial —&nbsp;it was considered by many as being in &#8220;bad taste&#8221; when unveiled by city authorities nearly 60 years ago.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Dam collapse.</strong> Mining giant Vale announced to investors that it has reached a <a href="">USD 25-million settlement</a> with investors who filed a class-action lawsuit following the 2015 Mariana dam collapse. Plaintiffs argued that the company omitted data on the dam&#8217;s safety procedures and failed to avoid a disaster that killed 19 people and wiped entire villages from the map. The deal was confirmed by a U.S. court in the Southern District of New York.</li><li><strong>Supply chains.</strong> Research organization Trase has <a href="">analyzed</a> the supply chains of Brazil’s agribusiness exporters — naming companies that rely on third-parties that illegally use forest land. Nearly all deforestation in Brazil today is illegal, but companies have historically turned a blind eye to their suppliers&#8217; practices. According to Trase, plausible deniability becomes harder to sustain.</li><li><strong>Argentina.</strong> The Alberto Fernández administration plans to nationalize 90-year-old grain exporter and biofuel producer Vicentin, placing it under the administration of state-controlled oil company YPF (itself nationalized in 2012 from Spain&#8217;s Repsol). Despite receiving hefty loans from state-owned banks during the Mauricio Macri years — which are under investigation — the company flirted with bankruptcy last year and has struggled to renew its maturities.</li><li><strong>Universities.</strong> Using the pandemic as an excuse, the Bolsonaro government has decided to politically intervene in federal universities, with the president issuing a provisional decree that allows Education Minister Abraham Weintraub to choose new school deans during the pandemic. The move is officially to avoid public gatherings created by election processes, but universities complained it hampers their political independence.

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