Brazilians will have to take vaccines, but don’t know when

. Dec 18, 2020
vaccines brazil supreme court Influenza vaccine is distributed in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Ilan Pellenberg/Shutterstock

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Today, the Supreme Court rules on making vaccines obligatory. Google hit with a fine from a São Paulo court. Another major car factory closes down.


Dear reader, this is our final Daily Briefing of 2020. The Brazilian Report newsroom will take an end-of-year break between December 20 and January 3, 2021, before returning on January 4. In the meantime, we will continue publishing exclusive content about Brazil and Latin America.

2021: A make or break year for Brazil?

In 2021, President Jair Bolsonaro will have to walk a dangerous tightrope. He must lead the country into economic recovery — which requires the approval of structural reforms — while preserving his political capital among the electorate. Welfare programs are set to expire completely at the end of the year due to budgetary constraints. Without a safety net, Brazil’s record unemployment rate could explode, fueling social dissatisfaction.

History tells us that the combination of poor economic performance and low popularity is a dangerous cocktail for Brazilian presidents. For Mr. Bolsonaro, 2021 will determine whether he will go down as the man who steered Brazil out of the coronavirus crisis, or if his administration will implode along the way. 

To learn about the challenges Brazil will face in 2021, we have prepared an exclusive special report. Take a peek at the table of contents:

  • Vaccines race will decide Brazil’s coronavirus fate
  • Economy: Brazil avoids the worst but future remains open-ended 
  • Brazilian agro faces enormous pressure
  • Big capital tries to force Brazil to go green
  • Congress leadership vote key to government’s success
  • How to mend fences with top trading partners
  • Tech gap a major bottleneck for 2021

Pre-order now and get a 30-percent discount!

Supreme Court makes coronavirus vaccines mandatory

When coronavirus vaccines are finally available in Brazil, citizens will be obligated to get their shots.

A Thursday Supreme Court decision says vaccination is mandatory — and authorities can impose sanctions on those who fail to comply. The verdict only confirms Brazil&#8217;s current vaccine rules, as those who do not have their vaccines up to date cannot become civil servants, receive welfare benefits, or enroll in public schools. But the subject has become a true culture war in Brazil, with President Jair Bolsonaro being the <a href="">biggest anti-vax activist</a> in the country.</p> <ul><li>Religious or moral reasons will not be accepted as grounds for skipping vaccination. Also, justices gave states and municipalities power to set rules over their own jurisdictions, in the case of federal inaction.</li></ul> <p><strong>Reaction. </strong>The president bashed the decision claiming that &#8220;there won&#8217;t be vaccines available for everyone&#8221; anyway.</p> <ul><li>To reduce fears of possible side effects, world leaders are taking their Covid-19 shots in public. Not Mr. Bolsonaro. &#8220;I won&#8217;t take the vaccine, period. If someone thinks my life is in danger, that is my problem. Period,&#8221; he <a href="">said</a> this week.</li></ul> <p><strong>No timetable for vaccines.</strong> As things stand, Brazilians do not know when they will be able to get their shots. The government&#8217;s favored immunizer, from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, has stalled in its clinical trial process. Meanwhile, Pfizer complained that federal regulators are making &#8220;unusual&#8221; requests before granting vaccines approval for emergency use. Those demands include a detailed vaccination timetable — something the Health Ministry itself claims is not possible to produce at this point.</p> <ul><li>Brazil has signed a memorandum of intent to purchase 70 million doses from Pfizer, but it could only move forward with distribution after regulatory approval.</li></ul> <p><strong>Pandemic.</strong> Brazil&#8217;s new daily deaths hit four digits for the first time since September, with 1,092 casualties confirmed on Thursday. In terms of cases, the past two days were the worst consecutive two-day period on record, with a combined 140,400 infections confirmed.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641109"><script src=""></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/4704385"><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Google suffers legal setback</h2> <p>A São Paulo state court ordered Google to pay a BRL 50,000 (USD 9,800) fine for removing a YouTube video two years ago. The content had been published by NGO Intervozes to denounce how cultural productions portray black Brazilians in a prejudiced manner, using clips from soap operas and TV series. YouTube flagged the video for copyright infringement, but the NGO sued Google for censorship.</p> <ul><li>State judges agreed that Google&#8217;s move was a violation of freedom of speech, and that any copyright-related litigation should have taken place in a court case.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The fine is a drop in the ocean for Google in monetary terms. Yet, it marks the continuation of a series of legal setbacks for the Silicon Valley behemoth. In the U.S., Google faces three major antitrust lawsuits, while Brazil&#8217;s Justice Ministry is scrutinizing the company&#8217;s data treatment policies.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Will Brazil’s auto industry ever stand on its own feet?</h2> <p>Mercedes-Benz announced that it will close its four-year-old factory in the state of São Paulo. The company says headquarters is focusing on manufacturing electric cars, a transformation process that forces executives to assess the value of each factory in the world. Reportedly, the Brazilian plant would have required massive investment in order to begin making electric vehicles. Mercedes-Benz, however, will continue manufacturing trucks and buses in Brazil.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>Last year, Ford also sold its plant in the Greater São Paulo Area.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The closure of yet another automobile factory is testament to how much of a failure Brazil&#8217;s stimulus policies to the auto industry have been.</p> <ul><li>Between 2012 and 2017, the country ran Inovar Auto, a policy giving tax breaks to companies to stimulate investment in research and innovation. The program dished out BRL 6.6 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in incentives and drew the ire of the World Trade Organization. But investments in R&amp;I actually <em>fell</em> during the program&#8217;s duration.</li></ul> <p><strong>Yes, but … </strong>The auto industry says the incentives are justified due to the sector&#8217;s role in the Brazilian economy. Automakers are responsible for 130,000 direct jobs and account for 4 percent of the GDP.</p> <p><strong>New policy.</strong> The current program destined to aid the auto industry is Rota 2030. For the next 15 years, it will allow tax breaks of up to 2 percent for vehicles produced in accordance with energy and safety goals. Companies also get a tax cut of up to 15.3 percent for investments in research and development. </p> <ul><li>Even with this benefit, taxes amount to 30.4 percent of a car’s rental price in Brazil, compared to 16 percent in Germany and 9.9 percent in Japan, according to automaker association Anfavea.</li></ul> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> Undoubtedly, companies do have to adapt to changing markets, but in a scenario with less money available for fiscal incentives, structural changes have to be made in order to kick-start growth once again. For the auto industry, that would involve tax reform and less bureaucracy.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Art. </strong><a href=";$p$f=cf9128e"><em>A Caipirinha</em></a>, a cubist self-portrait by Brazilian painter Tarsila do Amaral, was auctioned for BRL 57.7 million (USD 11.4 million), the most ever paid for an artwork on Brazilian soil. The oil canvas produced in the 1920s belonged to Salim Schahin, a banker involved in many corruption scandals — and was put up for auction in order to help pay his BRL 2-billion debt to 12 banks.</li><li><strong>Schools.</strong> The São Paulo state government has persisted with its idea to resume in-person classes in public schools as early as February, when Brazil&#8217;s school year commences. That will be the case even if coronavirus cases and deaths go up in the state. A new <a href="">poll</a> shows that two-thirds of Brazilians want schools to be closed as a way to curb infections — but experts warn about a growing gap between rich and poor students. A November <a href="">report</a> by Unicef showed that 4.8 million Brazilian students spent at least six months without access to any single educational activity this year.</li><li><strong>2021 crisis.</strong> Banks are bracing for an increase in default rates for Q2 and Q3 2021, as the <a href="">coronavirus emergency salary</a> expires in two weeks. Projections vary between 8 and 11 percent — but analysts add that welfare programs, coupled with efforts to renegotiate debts, have managed to keep default rates in check for the better part of 2020. Massive uncertainty about Brazil&#8217;s economic outlook, however, will bring volatility to the credit market.</li><li><strong>Labor.</strong> Official data shows that <a href="">child labor</a> in Brazil decreased 17 percent between 2016 and 2019, when 1.76 million children and teenagers were employed in jobs interfering with their education opportunities — half of them in dangerous or hazardous activities. This number could go up in the near future due to the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. </li><li><strong>Refugees.</strong> Between March, when the pandemic was declared, and November, only 14,265 people filed refugee claims in Brazil, according to data from the Justice Ministry. That is a 76-percent decrease from the same period of last year, and almost all claims (12,409) were recorded in January and February. The drop makes sense, given that Brazilian borders were closed for months — still, that did not necessarily stop refugees from entering the country, notably from <a href="">Venezuela</a>.

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