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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus even though his country is one of the hardest hit in the world © AFP / EVARISTO SA

Capital Health

Bolsonaro shoots down plan to buy Chinese vaccine

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct 21 – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday his government would not in fact purchase a Chinese-developed vaccine against Covid-19, a day after his health minister announced a deal to buy millions of doses.

“The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig…. That is why I have decided not to purchase this vaccine,” the far-right leader wrote on Facebook.

Bolsonaro made the post after coming under pressure from hardline supporters to ban what one called the “Chinese dictatorship’s vaccine”: CoronaVac, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac.

Bolsonaro later told journalists he had canceled a deal announced Monday by Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello to purchase 46 million doses of CoronaVac, to be administered starting in January.

CoronaVac has been caught up in a messy political battle in Brazil.

Bolsonaro, whose government has strained ties with China, has derided it as the vaccine “from that other country,” pushing instead to acquire another vaccine being developed by Oxford University in Britain.

Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a top Bolsonaro opponent, has meanwhile gotten behind CoronaVac, sealing a deal between Sinovac and Brazil’s Butantan Institute to test and produce the vaccine in his state.

In his Facebook post, Bolsonaro called CoronaVac “Joao Doria’s Chinese vaccine.”

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“This is a political game. Unfortunately, that’s all this governor (Doria) knows how to do,” Bolsonaro told journalists during a visit to a Sao Paulo naval base.

Doria fired back that the doses in question would in fact be produced locally by Brazil’s own Butantan Institute, the largest vaccine supplier in the country.

“The Butantan vaccine is Brazil’s vaccine, for all Brazilians. We don’t evaluate vaccines on political or ideological criteria,” he said in a speech to the Senate in Brasilia.

The health ministry meanwhile attributed the row to a “misinterpretation” of Pazuello’s remarks.

“There is no committment to the government of Sao Paulo or its governor” to buy the vaccine, only a “non-binding memorandum of understanding between the health ministry and the Butantan Institute,” it said in a statement.

Pazuello, an army general, is Brazil’s third health minister of the pandemic.

His predecessors left after clashing with Bolsonaro, including over the president’s insistence on using the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus despite studies showing it is ineffective.

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