On January 17, weeks after other countries in Latin America and around the world began their mass vaccination campaigns, Brazil finally administered its first COVID-19 vaccine in the state of Sao Paulo using the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac. That first shot was one of 6 million doses imported by the state-funded Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, which helped develop the vaccine.
Days later, on January 23, the federally funded Fiocruz Institute announced that it had received two million ready-to-use doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines from India and had started distributing them across the country. Since then, more than a million Brazilians have been vaccinated against the deadly virus.
Nevertheless, Brazil’s national COVID-19 vaccination program is still in its infancy and it is not clear whether the country will be able to produce or import enough doses of the vaccine to immunize all. its population of 210 million by the end of the year.
Brazil, of course, is not the only country in the world struggling to vaccinate its people against the deadly virus in a timely manner. The lack of resources and infrastructure, coupled with the fact that rich countries accumulate more doses than they need, has left many developing countries unable to obtain enough doses to immunize even the most vulnerable members. vulnerable in their society.
There is, however, one thing that sets Brazil apart from all other nations that appear to be losing the vaccine race: a far-right government refusing to recognize the severity of the crisis and determined to hamper any effort to stem the spread of the virus. .
Indeed, since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his government have done everything to prevent Brazil from effectively responding to this unprecedented public health emergency.
Bolsonaro not only claimed that COVID-19 was just “a bit of the flu,” but also actively encouraged his supporters not to wear masks or practice physical distancing. He attended crowded events, shook hands and hugged people during the height of the first wave, and repeatedly ignored the scientific consensus on the best ways to beat the virus. He lobbied for the antimalarial drug Hydroxychloroquine and the antiparasitic Ivermectin to be used in the treatment of COVID-19, although scientists around the world have warned that there is no evidence that either of the medication was effective against the disease. He sacked two health ministers within months for refusing to support the use of unproven treatments and trying to introduce simple physical distancing measures.
Beyond his efforts to downplay the severity of the crisis and spread misinformation about treatment methods, the president’s isolationist foreign policy and combative attitude toward China have also hampered Brazil’s efforts to secure COVID-vaccines. 19.
Bolsonaro and his supporters have long opposed China. More recently, Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, publicly accused Chinese telecommunications company Huawei of “espionage” and called the ruling Chinese Communist Party “an enemy of freedom.” Meanwhile, Bolsonaro himself has repeatedly accused China of being responsible for the pandemic and said he believes the CoronaVac vaccine to be “untrustworthy” because of its “origin”. All of this has hampered Brazil’s plans for domestic vaccine production, as the basic ingredients of the two vaccines approved for use in the country – Oxford-AstraZeneca and CoronaVac – have to be imported from China.
The Brazilian government recently signed an agreement with the Butanan Institute to purchase 46 million doses of CoronaVac vaccine that it plans to produce in the coming months. The government has also signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to produce 100 million doses of its vaccine locally at the Fiocruz Institute.
In response to diplomatic attacks by the Bolsonaro government, however, China delayed the shipment of active vaccine ingredients to Brazil, resulting in production stopping at both facilities.
Authorities in Butantan said if the ingredients did not arrive by the end of the month, they would not be able to deliver the 46 million doses promised to the government. The Fiocruz Institute will also not be able to deliver vaccines until it receives the ingredients from China.
As its diplomatic skirmishes with Beijing continue to hamper its efforts to obtain vaccines, the Bolsonaro government is also unable to look to the United States for help. As Bolsonaro had a very close relationship with Republican President Donald Trump, he is now unable to approach his Democratic successor, Joe Biden, to ask for support for his country’s immunization program.
Ultimately, Bolsonaro’s counterproductive foreign policy positions, diplomatic failures and scientific denial, coupled with the shocking ineptitude of his ministers, led Brazil to record the second highest number of official COVID-19 deaths to the world after the United States and not to implement an effective vaccination program.
The situation has gotten so bad in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, that the Brazilian Air Force has had to provide emergency oxygen supplies to hospitals overwhelmed by a further increase in COVID cases. 19. Relatives of coronavirus patients, who were protesting outside city hospitals, said their relatives were prematurely removed from ventilators because oxygen was depleted. Local media reported that people bought oxygen cylinders from private companies and took them to hospitals in their own private cars in a desperate attempt to save patients. The Venezuelan government, another target of Bolsonaro’s attacks, also sent an emergency cargo of oxygen to the state.
As the tragedy unfolding in Manaus grabbed international headlines, a Brazilian Supreme Court judge approved an investigation into Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Amazon city . Pazuello is accused of failing to deliver supplemental oxygen to Manaus quickly despite receiving several reports that hospital stocks were dwindling.
While the official investigation into Pazuello’s actions is likely to take months, if not years, most Brazilians have already come to the conclusion that the conduct of Bolsonaro and his ministers throughout the crisis was not nothing less than criminal.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets across the country in recent weeks, demanding that Bolsonaro be removed from office for his disastrous handling of the country’s health crisis. Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, who is leading the state’s efforts to import and produce the CoronaVac vaccine and who is expected to run against Bolsonaro in the next presidential election, openly called Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic ” genocidal ”. Analysts say in national publications that the president’s deliberate inaction in the face of this public emergency could constitute a “crime against the Brazilian people,” and he would face his own “Nuremberg trial” once the pandemic is over.
Meanwhile, a recent study by the University of Sao Paulo and Conectas Human Rights, one of Latin America’s most respected judicial organizations, found that the rapid spread of the coronavirus in Brazil was not simply the the result of government “negligence and ineptitude”. , but a deliberate institutional strategy. Indeed, looking at Bolsonaro’s actions over the past year, it is difficult to come to any conclusion other than the one he has deliberately and criminally worked to expose Brazilians to this deadly virus.
Now, with an ever-growing number of Brazilian congressmen backing the call for his impeachment, Bolsonaro is finally feeling the heat. As the number of cases and deaths continues to rise and vaccination efforts appear to be going nowhere, the president is finding it harder than ever to defend his actions.
He tried to repel his detractors with threats, mobilized his supporters on social media to attack his opponents and accused the media of conspiring against his government. He even tried to make Pazuello the scapegoat for his government’s failures, implying that only the Minister of Health was responsible for the disastrous handling of the crisis and the delays in vaccination.
Today, Brazil is at the breaking point. Bolsonaro is trying with whatever he has to cling to power, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to hide the fact that his misguided policies and his divisive rhetoric have led some 220,000 Brazilians to needlessly lose their lives. .
Brazil will eventually defeat this virus. Bolsonaro and his far-right government, however, may not be so lucky.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.