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Brazil is approaching half a million deaths from Covid, a number second only to the US showing little sign of relief. However, residents are throwing out vaccines they believe are substandard in favor of hard-to-find photosPfizer Inc.
In Sao Paulo, people search for American company shots at public clinics and often go out if none are available. Some health care centers have put up signs that say “no Pfizer shots” to save time. Many vaccination centers are empty, and the few that have Pfizer have massive lines.
Maressa Tavares, a 29-year-old teacher, could have been shot two weeks ago in Rio de Janeiro. But at the request of her father, she is waiting for Pfizer. “For me, it didn’t make much of a difference to be taken, but my dad has very strong beliefs,” she said.
Such reluctance is hampering a vaccination campaign already plagued by shortages and delays. Failure to control the disease would hurt not only Brazilians, who are dying at a rate of about 2,000 a day, but also threaten a global pandemic resurgence if the nation of 213 million becomes a breeding ground for new species.
Synovac of China and EnglandAstraZeneca Plc accounts for about 96% of the shootings available in the country, compared to only 4% for Pfizer, according to government data.
While doctors say residents should get every stroke available, Sinovac’s CoronaVac has a much lower efficacy rate than other vaccines, and President Jair Bolsonaro based his “origin” and initially refused to buy it. Astra without its use suffered worldwide thanks to rare blood clots, side effects and a still pending approval in the US
“At first, people were afraid to take CoronaVac because it is Chinese, and now it is Astra because of the reactions,” said Luiz Carlos de Souza of Silva, a nurse who helps immunize people at a public clinic in Rio. “People are really misinformed. The government took a long time to come up with a vaccination plan, which creates a lot of fear.”
Hesitation is not uniquely Brazilian. Amesh Adalja, who studies pandemics at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Safety in Baltimore, said it has existed since the invention of the smallpox vaccine in 1796. More than two centuries later, U.S. officialshave promised everything, from chips to lottery prizes to convince people. In Europe, use of Astra was blocked following reports of blood clots, and Uruguay even dropped the doses.
But nowhere are vaccines needed more than in Brazil. The country has delivered more than 86 million shots, but covering less than 30% of the population with a first dose and only 12% with two, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Adalja said misinformation on social media, combined with “denial from the highest levels of government”, have hampered Brazil’s campaign.
Why mutated variants of the coronavirus are so troubling: Quick intake
If the virus continues to spread uncontrollably, Adalja said, new variants could emerge. Many of them have already appeared, including the highly contagious range, which was first documented in Brazil in November and has since spread to 64 countries. Vaccines seem effective against these variants, but countries with low vaccination levels may sink deeper into crisis.
In Brazil, climbing remains high – and may worsen as winter reaches the Southern Hemisphere. Some cities and states are resuming blockades, but after about 15 months of quarantine, such measures have become less effective.
“The virus is circulating like crazy, many people have been infected, few have been vaccinated, and mostly only with the first doses,” said Atila Iamarino, a biologist educated at the University of Sao Paulo and Yale who specializes in virology. “Choosing to wait for this or that vaccine is extremely dangerous.”
The government launched an organized campaign to delay vaccination and masks only in May, more than a year after the virus arrived. Bolsonaro has minimized the crisis all along. Just last week, he was the star of a motorcycle rally in his honor in Sao Paulo, criticizing blockages andordered the health ministry to study making optional masks.
Read more: Let Brazil escape 70 million shots and seal its coveted fate
Unlike the US, which previously bet on some vaccines, Brazil decided to buy only Astra, which has an efficacy rate of about 63% against symptomatic disease. After the delays, governors and mayors demanded their contracts. As the options ran out, the government finally reached an agreement on CoronaVac, a blow with an efficiency rate of around 51% that Bolsonaro has publicly denied several times.
After being criticized during a congressional inquiry into 95% failure to buy effective Pfizer vaccines, the president has begun to highlight the arrival of new groups – although he still questions the science behind them. He said Thursday that getting sick is a more effective way of defense and has not yet taken a hit.
Experts say even less effective is worth doing, but Bolsonaro’s distrust is reflected among his supporters. Edilson Pessanha, the father of Maressa Tavares, delayed his immunization for about three months until he could get the US vaccine. He said he was afraid of CoronaVac.
“People prefer perfection,” said the 62-year-old farmer. “I seek and love what is best for me, what is best for our country, which is what is happening. Bolsonaro is doing what is best for us. “
Natalia Pasternak, a microbiologist who has become a vocal critic of the pandemic government’s treatment and testified before Congress, calls these people “vaccine sommelier.”
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