Coronavirus: Vaccination

Brazil battles Chinese red tape to get active vaccine ingredients

The Brazilian government already distributed some 6 million ready doses of the vaccine from China's Sinovac.
The Brazilian government already distributed some 6 million ready doses of the vaccine from China's Sinovac.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA • Brazil is battling bureaucracy in China to free up exports of active ingredients for vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Sinovac Biotech, three people familiar with talks told Reuters.

Without this, an immunisation push could soon slow to a trickle.

More Brazilian states gave their first Covid-19 shots on Tuesday, as the government distributed six million ready doses of the vaccine from China's Sinovac after its approval on Sunday for emergency use.

However, the sources, who spoke anonymously due to diplomatic sensitivities, said red tape in China was holding back supplies needed for Brazil to finish and distribute millions more doses from its own biomedical facilities.

"It's a new situation, and there's a bureaucratic problem. The Chinese are still defining procedures, which takes time," one source said. "There's also a relative scarcity of supplies." The source said Brazil was not the only country struggling with export hurdles.

Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly antagonised China.

Recently, he disparaged the Sinovac shot based on its "origins".

Brazil's federally funded Fiocruz biomedical centre said it would not be able to deliver finished doses of the AstraZeneca shot until March as it waits for the first shipment of active ingredients from China. The institute had been aiming for one million doses by the middle of next month.

British Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi on Monday flagged concerns about a "lumpy" manufacturing process slowing the roll-out of vaccines from AstraZeneca and Pfizer in Britain.

AstraZeneca has arranged for substantial manufacturing of its vaccine's active ingredients in China. Last month, Brazilian health inspectors visited and approved the facilities of Chinese firm WuXi Biologics to export the ingredients of the AstraZeneca shot for finishing in Brazil.

However, the first shipment to Fiocruz has been delayed repeatedly, leaving the facility there idle.

Brazil's government is scrambling to import ready doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India, but has faced delays there too.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2021, with the headline 'Brazil battles Chinese red tape to get active vaccine ingredients'. Subscribe