Brazil hunts for Covid-19 vaccines in world of new outbreaks, shortages

Brazil has fully vaccinated only 6 per cent of its population.
Brazil has fully vaccinated only 6 per cent of its population.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAO PAULO (BLOOMBERG) - Brazil is struggling to find vaccines to tackle one of the world's worst Covid-19 outbreaks as resurgent outbreaks and supply shortages among top providers slow the pace of deliveries.

Foreign Minister Carlos Franca told lawmakers on Wednesday (April 28) he is seeking vaccines from a variety of partners, including 30 million doses from China's Sinopharm, plus eight million doses of the India-produced AstraZeneca shot as well as any surplus from the United States.

The problem, he added, is the pandemic's upsurge in India and tight supplies globally have left Brazil scrambling for doses.

"The lack of vaccines and other medicine is not a problem only for Brazil - the virus is harming the whole world," Mr Franca said during a session of the Lower House's foreign relations committee.

"Who could have expected that India would face such an outbreak?"

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has indicated he will prioritise long-time ally India when sharing US vaccine surplus.

The US's stockpile of AstraZeneca passed 20 million doses earlier this month and has grown since, prompting calls to donate them to countries struggling to find vaccines. The failure to secure vaccines for Brazilians contributed to the resignation of Mr Ernesto Araujo as foreign minister last month.

The pressure on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is mounting as lawmakers investigate his government's response to a pandemic that has taken the lives of nearly 400,000 Brazilians just as hopes for a faster vaccine roll-out dim.

Brazil has fully vaccinated only 6 per cent of its population and the pace of inoculations in May is now expected to drop by 14.5 million to 32.4 million.

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes is not helping either. In an event with health experts on Tuesday, he said that China had "created the virus" and that its vaccines are less effective than those produced by US companies.

Without responding directly, Beijing's ambassador to Brasilia in a Twitter post reminded everyone that China is Brazil's top vaccine provider.

Mr Guedes later walked back on his remarks, saying that the comments were "unfortunate" and insisted it was a misunderstanding. Mr Omar Aziz, the senator who heads the congressional probe on Mr Bolsonaro's response to the pandemic, was not mollified.

"Guedes thinks he is a scientist when he talks about the Chinese vaccine," Mr Aziz told GloboNews in an interview. "We should thank China for having a vaccine."