COVID-19 pandemic has created flood of potentially substandard research

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Brazil’s newly launched vaccination campaign against COVID-19 has got off to a late and rocky start. With a second wave of the disease ravaging the country, vaccines, syringes, and other vital equipment have been reported to be almost completely gone, according to scientists blaming Jair Bolsonaro’s government.

The campaign only began in the country of 212 million on Monday, weeks after the US and European countries launched their vaccination programs.

The late rollout hampered by scarce supplies has sparked growing public anger, with widespread complaints about people being vaccinated out of line.

Thousands of people in several cities protested Bolsonaro’s fall this weekend.

The vaccination to date includes six million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine from Sinovac, China, and two million of the UK’s AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which arrived from India where they are being made on Friday after several delays.

The Butantane Institute in Sao Paulo, affiliated with Sinovac, has also received approval for an additional 4.8 million cans of CoronaVac.

Delay warnings

But no sooner had the vaccination program started than experts warned of delays.

It does so at a time when the pandemic has soared, claiming more than 1,000 lives a day and more than 215,000 people to date, followed by the US’s 415,000 total.

Isabella Ballalai, vice president of the Brazilian Society of Immunology (SBIM), said a break in the supply chain could suddenly bring the vaccination program to a halt.

She denounced what she called “the incompetence of the health ministry” and said more transparency was needed to restore public confidence.

Bolsonaro, who long downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, on Friday expressed doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines.

The government admitted this month that it was missing 30 million syringes in the first phase of its national plan, which aims to immunize 50 million people over an unclear timeframe.

In addition to the distribution problems in this vast country, there have been complaints in several cities that people are being vaccinated even if they are not in a priority group.

“Absolute Negligence”

In Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, where hospitals are overcrowded with COVID patients and oxygen supplies are critically scarce, the outcry of complaints led to a 24-hour suspension of vaccinations.

The Butantane Institute has announced that it is expected to produce 40 million cans of CoronaVac. The Fiocruz Foundation, which has ties to the Ministry of Health, is supposed to make the AstraZeneca vaccine, but warns of problems in the supply chain.

Many experts attribute the delays to Bolsonaro’s frequent criticism of the CoronaVac vaccine, which they believe has offended the Chinese.

The only explanation, said Margareth Dalcolmo, pulmonologist and researcher at Fiocruz, is “absolute negligence, the diplomatic incompetence of Brazil”.

Bolsonaro rejected the criticism on Thursday, saying the problem was “bureaucratic, not political”.

Increasing frustration

Thomaz Favaro, a political analyst with Control Risks, pointed a finger at the government, which had “delayed the signing of agreements with the laboratories.”

Brazil has not yet reached an agreement to purchase the Pfizer BioNTech or Janssen vaccine.

But Favaro said Bolsonaro will have to pay a political price at some point, adding, “The delay in the vaccination campaign is having a serious impact on economic recovery and will increase people’s frustration.”

A new poll on Friday found that Bolsonaro’s popularity is 31 percent, the lowest since he took office in January 2019.

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© 2021 AFP

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