Brazil edges closer to approving two coronavirus vaccines

. Jan 13, 2021
Senior citizens in line to take a vaccine against the influenza virus. Photo: BW Press/Shutterstock Senior citizens in line to take a vaccine against the influenza virus. Photo: BW Press/Shutterstock

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Today, regulators announce crucial meeting to decide on vaccine approvals. Agribusiness has a strong 2020, but questions remain over this year. A new candidate in the Senate leadership race.

Brazil’s vaccine D-day

Brazilian health regulators Anvisa will hold a meeting on

January 17 to <a href="">decide</a> whether to grant emergency approval to two coronavirus vaccines: one by AstraZeneca and the Chinese-made CoronaVac. According to the Health Ministry, doses could reach states and municipalities within four days after receiving the green light.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Brazil has lagged behind the developed world —&nbsp;and even some of its South American neighbors — in the vaccination process, and there remains no clear date for inoculation to begin. And the delays come as Brazil finds itself in the throes of a brutal second coronavirus wave. For the fifth time this year, the country recorded over 1,000 new daily deaths.</p> <p><strong>Disappointing.</strong> Meanwhile, the São Paulo-based Butantan Biological Institute has finally released comprehensive data on the CoronaVac clinical trials in Brazil. The vaccine was <a href="">just 50.4 percent effective</a> at preventing symptomatic infections — barely meeting regulatory standards and well below the 78-percent efficacy rate advertised last week. Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were over 90-percent effective.</p> <ul><li>That 78-percent rate referred only to a snapshot of the full trial sample, involving only those who were infected but did not develop severe symptoms.</li></ul> <p><strong>Showmanship.</strong> Last week, São Paulo Governor João Doria lent his face to announce the cherry-picked numbers. On Tuesday, however, he tasked his subordinates with explaining the new, underwhelming numbers.</p> <ul><li>Despite the data mixup, scientists maintain that the CoronaVac results are actually quite promising and that the vaccine could be pivotal to Brazil&#8217;s immunization efforts. But Mr. Doria&#8217;s decision to <a href="">place politics at the forefront of the vaccine race</a> deflated any upside — and gave ammunition to anti-vax groups who called out the lack of transparency in the disclosure of data.</li><li>Meanwhile, supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro — who have bashed the Chinese-made vaccine on numerous occasions — celebrated its lower efficacy rate. His senior foreign affairs advisor, Felipe Martins, even used a Sinophobic slur to make fun of cheap, poor-quality goods.</li></ul> <p><strong>Legal dispute?</strong> If the CoronaVac is not greenlit by federal regulators, the state government of São Paulo is willing to take the matter to the Supreme Court — seeking an injunction that would allow it to begin vaccinating citizens on January 25.</p> <p><strong>Transparency.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro has said time and again that he will not take any Covid-19 vaccine due to risks they would incur. Interestingly, the government sealed the president&#8217;s vaccination records for 100 years — raising questions that his anti-vax stance is only for show. A federal judge reacted, giving the administration <a href="">72 hours to explain its decision</a>.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641109"><script src=""></script></div> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Agro exports surpass USD 100 billion</h2> <p>Brazilian agricultural exports amounted to USD 100.81 billion in 2020, a value only smaller than the USD 101.17 billion recorded two years earlier. According to the Agriculture Ministry, the numbers were supported by strong demand from China and a weak Brazilian Real, making local prices highly competitive on a global scale.</p> <ul><li>In comparison to 2019, shipments grew by 4.1 percent.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Agribusiness was responsible for 48 percent of Brazil&#8217;s total exports and consolidated itself as the country&#8217;s most dynamic economic sector.</p> <p><strong>Risks.</strong> While initial crop projections for this year are positive, the sector still faces a few key challenges:</p> <ul><li><strong>Climate.</strong> Droughts have <a href="">intensified in grain-producing regions</a>, and a sizable amount of crops have had to be replanted. The La Niña phenomenon, when cooler-than-normal surface waters in the equatorial Pacific create abnormal rainfall in South America, is expected to intensify later in January.</li><li><strong>Deforestation. </strong>Another red flag is the mounting pressure on Brazilian companies to reduce their exposure to deforestation practices. French President Emmanuel Macron once again pledged his intention to reduce his country&#8217;s dependence on Brazilian soybean products. &#8220;Continuing to rely on Brazilian soy is to condone <a href="">Amazon deforestation</a>,&#8221; said Mr. Macron — echoing his administration&#8217;s plan to <a href="">increase the area allocated to protein-rich crops</a> by 40 percent over the next three years. France imported over 3 million tons of soy in 2017, two-thirds of which came from Brazil.</li><li><strong>China.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s recent bickering with the Asian giant sends shivers down producers&#8217; spines. China was responsible for importing 73 percent of Brazilian soybean exports and 54 percent of beef.</li></ul> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>A new contender in the Senate President race</h2> <p>The Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB) party unanimously selected Senator Simone Tebet as its <a href="">candidate for Senate President</a>. With 15 of 81 senators, the MDB is the biggest party in the upper house, and seeks to invoke the tradition by which the biggest bench is given the right to pick the president.</p> <ul><li>Ms. Tebet will face off against Rodrigo Pacheco, a member of the right-wing Democratas party who has the support of incumbent Davi Alcolumbre, the Jair Bolsonaro administration — and even the center-left Workers&#8217; Party.</li></ul> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The heads of congressional houses enjoy immense agenda-setting powers and will have a pivotal role in 2021, as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus crisis.</p> <p><strong>State of the race.</strong> The whip count so far seems favorable to Mr. Pacheco, as he expects to win between 30 and 34 votes. But candidates are heavily invested in negotiating strategic positions within Senate committees in exchange for support — and the fact that the vote is secret makes defections a real possibility.</p> <ul><li>In Ms. Tebet&#8217;s favor is her good relationship with an independent group of 21 mostly conservative senators known as &#8220;Changing the Senate.&#8221; They claim to be opposed to &#8220;politics as usual,&#8221; which could tilt the group toward the rookie Ms. Tebet.</li></ul> <p><em>— with Débora Álvares</em></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <ul><li><strong>Inflation. </strong>Brazil&#8217;s benchmark inflation index closed out 2020 at 4.52 percent — above the government&#8217;s 4-percent target. Food products accounted for the lion&#8217;s share of the increase, with prices jumping 14 percent during last year — the highest rise since 2002. And <a href="">increasing costs could continue to be a reality in 2021</a> — especially for healthcare insurance plans and private education tuition fees.</li><li><strong>Emergency aid. </strong>As economists warn of a <a href="">potential poverty crisis</a>, many lawmakers have put pressure on Congress to reinstate the coronavirus emergency salary program. However, leaders in both congressional houses have dismissed the possibility of holding sittings during January, as the legislature remains in recess. Leaders of the House did meet on Tuesday, but only to discuss the <a href="">February 2 Speaker election</a>.</li><li><strong>Freedom of speech.</strong> Attacks on journalists and media outlets grew by 140 percent in 2020 according to the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) — even without counting data from December. Just this week, journalism NGO Repórter Brasil, which dedicates itself to exposing slave labor in Brazil, suffered both a series of hacking attacks and an <a href="">attempted invasion of its São Paulo newsroom</a>.</li><li><strong>Politics.</strong> Maguito Vilela, who was elected mayor of Goiânia (Brazil&#8217;s tenth-most populated city) back in November, died today from Covid-19 complications. He had been in the hospital for 80 days — and won the vote despite being <a href="">unable to campaign for most of the electoral cycle</a>. His deputy, Rogério Cruz, takes over his seat.</li><li><strong>Latin America.</strong> Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was ousted last year in a <a href="">military-backed coup</a>, has <a href="">tested positive for Covid-19</a>. “He is currently stable and is receiving medical attention,” said his press office in a statement, without providing details on his symptoms. The diagnosis comes one week after the 61-year-old <a href="">political leader</a> took part in group meetings with coca farmers in central Bolivia.

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