Brazil has started rolling out two million ready-to-use AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines made in India, the state-funded Fiocruz Institute said on Saturday as protesters gathered in several cities against the management of the pandemic by President Jair Bolsonaro.
The institute said it began distributing the vaccines after another distribution program, which involved an agreement between the Brazilian government and AstraZeneca, was blocked due to a delay in an active ingredient shipped from China. .
Brazil expected to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine locally as part of the deal.
Following a considerable diplomatic effort that included a letter from President Jair Bolsonaro to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, AstraZeneca agreed to provide Brazil with the two million ready-to-use doses.
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly downplayed the threat of COVID-19, has faced mounting criticism for his handling of the vaccine rollout and for his government’s inability to contain a growing pandemic.
Brazil has recorded the second highest death toll from COVID-19 in the world – more than 215,000 – as well as at least 8.7 million cases since the start of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University .
The country is struggling to cope with a sharp increase in infections and hospitalizations, especially in hard hit state of Amazonas, where hospitals have been pushed to their limits amid dwindling supplies of oxygen and other equipment.
AstraZeneca’s rollout comes after Brazil also started distributing the Sinovac Biotech Ltd vaccine last weekend, which was developed in partnership with the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. This distribution was also marred by shipping delays.
The Sinovac vaccine has shown a disappointing efficacy of just over 50% in Brazilian trials. Despite the government’s growing reliance on the Chinese vaccine, Bolsonaro had previously decried it as unnecessary.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with the University of Oxford, has an effectiveness of 70.4%, according to preliminary trials.
Falling approval rating
Meanwhile, support for Bolsonaro has fallen sharply amid the current pandemic wave, according to a Datafolha poll released on Friday evening.
Forty percent of respondents said Bolsonaro’s administration was bad or terrible, up from 32 percent in a survey in early December. Just under a third of respondents rated Bolsonaro’s government as good or excellent, up from 37% in the previous poll.
This is the biggest drop in Bolsonaro’s approval rating since starting his presidency in 2019, S Paulo’s Folha newspaper reported.
Thousands of people, angered by the government’s response to the pandemic, joined protest caravans in several Brazilian cities on Saturday.
The protests, organized by left-wing parties and organizations, saw some 500 vehicles parading along Brasilia’s ministries plaza and sounding horns, their windows painted with slogans such as “Bolsonaro Out”, “Impeachment Now” and “Vaccination for Everyone”.
Similar protests involving hundreds of cars also took place in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Protesters also opposed the end in December of emergency financial aid that had helped some 68 million Brazilians – almost a third of the population – cope with the devastating effects of the pandemic.
However, despite the discontent, another Datafolha poll released Friday evening found that 53% of respondents were against Congress opening impeachment proceedings against Bolsonaro for his handling of the pandemic, up from 50% in a previous survey. .
Supporters of impeachment have fallen to 43% from 46% previously.