Many countries are getting a shot of hope this month as they vaccinate health workers against the coronavirus, but Brazil seems stuck in limbo, despite its own vaunted national vaccination program.
In an early Christmas gift to some, Chile and Mexico began immunizations on Thursday after granting emergency approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But in Brazil, where the Covid-19 death toll is far higher, lifesaving inoculation could be out of reach for months — the country’s Health Ministry announced last week that vaccinations would begin in February 2021.
Carla Domingues, an epidemiologist and former coordinator of Brazil’s National Immunization Program, told CNN that she is “very disappointed” with how far behind Brazil seems to be falling in the race to herd immunity.
Because Brazil has a strong track record of nationwide vaccination, she says there was a widespread expectation that Brazilians would have a regional advantage in the battle against the pandemic.
“Brazil has always been the leader in the implementation of new vaccines. We manage to achieve high vaccine coverage, even though it is a continental country with very different regions, such as São Paulo with a high population density and Amazonas, with huge distances, (and) an indigenous population,” she said.
“People were expecting that the Brazilian vaccination program would start earlier,” she said. But “other countries of the Americas that prepared themselves are already starting the vaccination, and Brazil has been left behind.”
Every day the virus rages uncontrolled in Brazil is lethally costly. Nearly 190,000 people there have been killed by Covid-19 — the highest reported death toll worldwide after the United States. Yet President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly second-guessed the urgency of immunization, disparaging “the rush for a vaccine.”
“The pandemic is really reaching its end, the numbers have showed this, we are dealing with small rises now,” he said Saturday, according to CNN Brasil. “But the rush for the vaccine is not justified because you are playing with people’s lives.”