SAA PAULO (AP) – Brazil is testing an experimental coronavirus vaccine, but interim health minister Eduardo Pazuello acknowledged on Tuesday that the government has not yet signed an agreement to get it if it works. Other countries have already secured hundreds of millions of doses of the recording made by Oxford University.
The country’s pandemic response has been criticized since March, when President Jair Bolsonaro began to ignore social distance recommendations. Hours before the Brazilian health minister spoke at the Congress, a judge ordered Bolsonaro to wear a face mask when outside in Brasilia’s capital.
Pazuello, an army general who made a career in logistics, discussed Brazil’s efforts to buy a vaccine for the virus or acquire the technology to make it. The country’s health regulator, Anvisa, has approved human clinical trials this month for the potential vaccine.
Pazuello said a decision on a deal for Brazil to acquire the planned vaccine is expected by the end of the week, but will depend on the chief of staff of the government.
British researchers started testing the experimental shot in May to immunize more than 10,000 people, including the elderly and children. The vaccine is one of about a dozen in early stages of human testing.
Brazil, where the coronavirus is still on the rise, is the only country other than the United Kingdom to test the Oxford vaccine. The country has more than 1 million confirmed cases and more than 52,600 fatalities.
The clinical trials began Monday in Sao Paulo and will begin in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday. The British Embassy says that 5,000 health workers are being vaccinated.
“We work directly with the three most promising” vaccines, said Pazuello, named Oxford shot, a vaccine under development by the American company Moderna and one of the Chinese experiments, which he did not disclose.
Vijay Rangarajan, the British ambassador to Brazil, told The Associated Press that he hopes Brazil will be one of the first countries to receive the vaccine if it works.
“However, that depends on when the country will sign the agreement,” he said by email. “There is already production capacity for the vaccine of 2 billion doses worldwide. But a large part of the worldwide production has already been purchased. ”
On May 21, the United States announced a deal on at least 300 million doses of the Oxford shot and pledged to $ 1.2 billion. On June 13, pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca agreed to deliver up to 400 million doses of the experimental vaccine to countries of the European Union. Other negotiations are ongoing with Russia and Japan, among others, the company’s CEO said this month.
The British ambassador also added that he “wants to ensure that Brazilians can benefit from any vaccine quickly and on a non-profit basis.”
Bolsonaro has been criticized for downplaying his government’s response to the pandemic and comparing the disease to “a little flu.”
Prior to vaccine trials, Bolsonaro repeatedly praised the use of chloroquine to treat COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the coronavirus, even when health experts rejected its efficacy. The US announced on May 31 that it would donate 2 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, a similar anti-malarial drug considered less toxic, to the South American country.
The US has also pledged to donate 1,000 fans to Brazil. The first 200 fans are expected at the end of this week, US Ambassador Todd Chapman told journalists in a video call on Tuesday.
Another experimental vaccine under development by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech will be tested in Brazil in July, according to the Sao Paulo state government. Sinovac has a deal with the state’s Instituto Butantan to produce it. About 9,000 Brazilians are expected to participate.
Earlier Tuesday, a Brazilian federal judge ordered Bolsonaro to comply with local regulations to wear a face mask or face a fine.
Over the past few weekends, a sometimes unmasked Bolsonaro has joined a crowd of people protesting the Brazilian Congress and Supreme Court, visiting bakeries and outdoor food stalls, and drawing crowds.
Since the end of April, the federal district of Brazil has required people in public to wear face masks to control the spread of the new coronavirus. Failure to comply will result in a potential daily fine of $ 390.
Judge Renato Coelho Borelli said in his statement that Bolsonaro “exposed other people to the contamination of a disease that has caused national upheaval.”
The Brazilian president did not immediately respond to the decision. An earlier court decision forced him to publish the results of three COVID-19 tests he took in early March, and they were all negative for the virus. He has not released any tests since then.
Bolsonaro sometimes appears in public events wearing a mask, unlike some other heads of state, including U.S. President Donald Trump, Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Argentine Alberto Fernandez, who often hugged supporters and brought selfies without wearing a mask although use of a mask is mandatory in the capital of Argentina.
Associated Press writer Mayra Pertossi in Buenos Aires, Argentina contributed to this report.
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