US to send 3 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Brazil after single-day record in cases

The shipment is part of Washington's pledge to donate 80 million vaccines to countries around the world by the end of June. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The United States on Thursday (June 24) will ship three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot Covid-19 vaccine to Brazil, the country with the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, a White House official said.

The shipment - part of Washington's pledge to donate 80 million vaccines - will depart Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on an Azul Airlines flight Thursday evening, bound for Campinas, a city in south-eastern Brazil about 100km from Sao Paulo, the official said on Wednesday.

The donation comes as Brazil continues to battle the virus, which has claimed more than half a million lives, aggravating deep political divides ahead of next year's presidential election and sparking unrest around the country.

Brazil registered a single-day record of 115,228 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, along with 2,392 deaths from Covid-19.

The country has registered more than 18 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 507,109, according to ministry data.

The White House said scientific teams and legal and regulatory authorities from both countries worked together to ensure prompt delivery.

The one-shot J&J vaccine is seen as particularly helpful in ensuring effective vaccination rates in remote areas since it does not require a second dose.

The official said the vaccines had been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and would come from the supply that the US had immediately available.

Brazil had already given regulatory approval to the J&J vaccine, providing the quickest path to getting a large number of doses to the country immediately, the official added.

Manufacturing of the J&J vaccines at Emergent BioSolutions' Baltimore plant was halted in April by the FDA following a production error that led to millions of doses being ruined.

The White House official underscored that the doses being shipped to Brazil were safe and stressed they came with no strings attached for the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.

"We are sharing these doses not to secure favours or extract concessions. Our vaccines do not come with strings attached. We are doing this with the singular objective of saving lives," said the official.

Brazil has recorded the world's highest Covid-19 death toll outside the United States, with more than half a million lives lost, according to the ministry's official tally.

But while the situation in the United States and most wealthy nations improves thanks to higher vaccination rates, Brazil and many neighbors in South America this month have seen their biggest outbreaks yet.

Brazil's seven-day average for new coronavirus cases and deaths is now the highest in the world, having surpassed India last week, according to data compiled by Reuters.

Brazil marked the milestone of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths over the weekend with nationwide protests against the government's handling of the pandemic.

The country has been slow to roll out vaccines with only 12 per cent of Brazilians fully immunized, according to Health Ministry data.

Efforts have accelerated recently, with certain states such as Sao Paulo predicting shots for all adults by September.

The government of President Bolsonaro is under scrutiny for delays and alleged misconduct in obtaining vaccines, having failed to respond to early offers from Pfizer last year.

The government instead struck a deal for more a expensive vaccine made by India's Bharat Biotech.

A Senate committee is probing allegations related to Bharat amid a wider investigation of the government's response.

A Brazilian Health Ministry official told prosecutors he faced internal pressure from an aide to then-Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello to buy the Bharat shot.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Mr Bolsonaro's Secretary of the Presidency Onyx Lorenzoni said there had been no influence peddling in the Bharat deal and the vaccines were not overpriced.

On Wednesday, the committee also called representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify before the committee as it weighs possible crimes related to misinformation online about Covid-19.

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