Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday rejected the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential vaccine against the coronavirus being developed by a Chinese company and tested in a state governed by a political rival, prompting some to question if he was allowing politics to steer public health decisions.
“The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” Bolsonaro said on his social media channels, adding that the vaccine has not yet completed testing, which is the case with all potential vaccines for the virus. “My decision is to not purchase such a vaccine.”
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello had announced the purchase on Tuesday in a meeting with Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a foe of Bolsonaro’s whose state is participating in the vaccine’s development through its Butantan Institute. The cost of the acquisition was estimated at 2 billion reais (US $360 million).
“Butantan’s vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” Pazuello said.
A Brazilian Health Ministry document issued on Monday and shared by Sao Paulo’s government on Wednesday confirmed that the ministry had put in writing its intention to buy the doses of the “Butantan Vaccine-Sinovac/Covid-19” for an estimated price of US$ 10.30 each.
The document made explicit the purchase was contingent upon the health regulator’s approval. Bolsonaro told journalists that protocol will be canceled.
Claudio Couto, a political science professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university, felt the president’s move had little to do with the virus and was more a way to hurt Doria, who is widely cited as a likely challenger to Bolsonaro’s 2022 reelection bid.
“His concern is to be a strong candidate for reelection, and that often means giving trouble to his adversaries,” Couto said.
Brazil has confirmed more than 153,000 deaths from COVID-19, the second most in the world, behind only the U.S. It also reported 5.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, the world’s third highest tally.
“It isn’t ideology, it isn’t politics, and it isn’t the electoral process that saves. It is the vaccine,” Doria told reporters in the national capital, Brasilia.
Earlier, the executive secretary of Brazil’s Health Ministry said in a televised statement that there had been a misunderstanding in the announcement about buying the CoronaVac vaccines.
“There is no intention to buy vaccines from China,” said Antonio Elcio Franco, who added there will be only “a Brazilian vaccine” made at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. Those shots, however, would still be based upon Sinovac’s research.