The state of vaccination in Brazil, one month later

. Feb 17, 2021
The state of vaccination in Brazil, one month later Vaccination station in Salvador, Bahia. Photo: Joa Souza/Shuterstock

On January 17, 54-year-old nurse Monica Calazans became the first person to receive a coronavirus vaccine in Brazil. The scene provided a jolt of hope, representing the first time the country could feasibly see a way out of the pandemic. One month later, however, Brazil’s vaccination efforts have been marred by shortages of jabs and government inaction facing the crisis.

In 2010, Brazil managed to vaccinate 100 million people against H1N1 — the virus which caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic — in a matter of just three months. This time around, as the country faces its worst health crisis ever, Brazil has managed to reach only 5.3 million citizens in the first month of vaccine rollout. This represents

just 2.3 percent of the population. At the current pace, full immunization would only be reached by 2024.</p> <p>On Tuesday, the cities of Salvador and Cuiabá stopped administering initial jabs to new patients to ensure that those already immunized may receive a second dose. Rio de Janeiro <a href="">will do the same</a>, and Curitiba could follow suit as of Friday. Florianópolis and Fortaleza are also running out of doses.</p> <p>But while vaccines are lacking in multiple regions, only 45 percent of all jabs distributed to states and municipalities have actually reached patients.</p> <p>The forced suspension of vaccination led the National Confederation of Municipalities to <a href="">demand the sacking</a> of Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello — which, per government sources, is unlikely to happen in the immediate future.</p> <p>With 240,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths, Brazil has the world&#8217;s second-highest death toll, behind only the U.S. And the appearance of new variants has raised even more questions about Brazil&#8217;s ability to tame the spread.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="CoronaVac distribution in Rio Grande do Sul. Photo: Felipe Dalla Valle/Palácio Piratini " class="wp-image-56795" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 1536w, 600w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Vaccination: CoronaVac distribution in Rio Grande do Sul. Photo: Felipe Dalla Valle/Palácio Piratini </figcaption></figure> <h2>Waning vaccine stocks</h2> <p>Last week, Mr. Pazuello <a href="">appeared before the Senate</a> in an attempt to convince lawmakers that the federal government is doing everything in its power to contain the spread of the coronavirus. He promised that half of the population would be vaccinated by July — and the other half before the end of the year.</p> <p>But states and municipalities complain about the uncertainty of vaccine supplies. Governors are scheduled to meet with the Health Minister on February 17 to demand a monthly timetable for vaccine deliveries in each state.</p> <p>A big part of the problem is the government&#8217;s decision to focus its efforts on obtaining a single vaccine, the one <a href=";utm_medium=email">produced by British-Swedish lab AstraZeneca</a> in partnership with the University of Oxford. For months, President Jair Bolsonaro shunned the Chinese-made CoronaVac, spreading misinformation about its effects. He even refused to deal with Pfizer to obtain its vaccine.</p> <p>At this moment, the bulk of shots administered in Brazil have been of the CoronaVac vaccine, originally championed by the São Paulo state government. Governors, however, will push for the Bolsonaro administration to <a href="">include Russia&#8217;s Sputnik V vaccine</a> into the mix, especially after federal regulators lifted many of the hurdles for its distribution in the country.</p> <p>Around the world, countries have secured their vaccine supplies by inking deals with multiple labs. Canada, for instance, has made agreements to purchase six doses per inhabitant with seven different manufacturers.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/5321979"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Vaccination stumbles as infections surge</h2> <p>The vaccine shortages happen as Brazil witnesses an uptick in infections and deaths caused by Covid-19. Experts say the country is still paying the price for the decision by hundreds of thousands of people to simply disregard social distancing recommendations and <a href="">celebrate end-of-year holidays as if there was no pandemic</a>.</p> <p>On February 14, Brazil reached its highest 7-day rolling average for new daily deaths. After Carnival, things are likely to get even worse.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641192"><script src=""></script></div> <p>Despite the efforts of multiple cities to prevent revelers from celebrating Carnival amid the pandemic, there were several reports of clandestine parties across the country. Dozens of establishments were shut down by inspectors in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. If past holidays are anything to go by, Brazil should see a significant surge of infections <a href="">over the next couple of weeks</a>.</p> <p>In 14 of 27 states, occupation rates for intensive care units are above 70 percent —&nbsp;and governors fear that the effects of Carnival could lead to the collapse of local health networks. Especially as a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus begins to spread around the country.</p> <p>Initially spotted in the Amazon region — where it drove hospitals to a full-scale collapse — the new variant has been confirmed in ten states. As revelers traveled to celebrate Carnival, we should expect this number to go up.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-scatter" data-src="visualisation/5319530"><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Health Minister under fire</h2> <p>If the evolution of the pandemic wasn&#8217;t enough of a problem, Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello has to worry about his own legal situation. He is under federal investigation for his alleged omission in the face of the <a href="">health collapse in Manaus</a>, the largest city in the Amazon basin.</p> <p>The city witnessed days of horror, with hospitals operating well above capacity and without oxygen supplies —&nbsp;leading to the death of dozens of patients of asphyxiation.</p> <p>On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the Health Ministry to <a href="">surrender all emails</a> exchanged between the department and authorities in Manaus.&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, opposition senators already have enough signatures to request the launch of a hearings committee in Congress — which could be devastating for an administration that refused to buy vaccines in advance, gambled on <a href="">unproven treatments</a>, and flat-out disregarded all scientific advice on how to deal with the pandemic.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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