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Covid news live: Bolsonaro criticizes plans to vaccinate young children as Brazil cases rise

President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized Brazilian health regulator Anvisa for authorizing the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 against Covid-19, Reuters reports, a day after his health minister revealed plans to vaccinate that age group.

Vaccine skeptic Bolsonaro said in a radio interview on Thursday that he had never heard of children dying from Covid-19 and reiterated that his daughter Laura (11) would not be vaccinated. Bolsonaro said vaccines can have side effects on children, but provided no evidence.

Anvisa and health regulators around the world have found that Covid-19 vaccines are safe from the age of 5.

“Are you going to vaccinate your child if the chance of death is almost zero? What’s behind this? What are the interests of vaccine maniacs?” stated Bolsonaro.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (right) has criticized plans to vaccinate young children against Covid-19 just as the number of cases rises again. Photo: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

The Department of Health announced Wednesday that it has purchased 20 million pediatric vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc and that voluntary vaccination of children ages 5 to 11 will begin by the end of the month.

Bolsonaro’s comments came as the health ministry reported 35,826 new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number of infections since September and 128 deaths from Covid.

In a social media broadcast later on Thursday, Bolsonaro emphasized that the vaccination was not mandatory. “No mayor or governor can prevent a child from going to school because it has not been vaccinated,” he said.

Bolsonaro warned that Pfizer does not take responsibility for any side effects the vaccine could have in children, and said parents should see a doctor immediately if their child develops chest pain or breathlessness.

Anvisa approved the Pfizer vaccine for children on Dec. 16 and has been strongly criticized by people who opposed vaccines and the president, who suggested that children should only be vaccinated with a doctor’s prescription.

The ministry dropped the idea as impractical. Requiring a written prescription would discourage vaccination at a time when the more transmissible coronavirus variant Omicron begins to spread in Brazil, health experts said at a public hearing.

At least 300 children aged 5 to 11 had died of Covid-19 in Brazil at the beginning of December, according to the National Council of Secretaries of State for Health.

The Brazilian military disagreed with the president this week on how to deal with Covid-19. It ordered soldiers to be vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distancing, and warned them against spreading false news about the pandemic.