Coronavirus: Brazil’s spat over vaccine from China is more about politics than health policy

South China Morning Post | Row between Brazilian president and Sao Paulo governor escalates after suspension of late-stage; CoronaVac trials Research institute chief accuses health regulator of stoking fear among the public

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said the move by the country’s health regulator to suspend local trials of a Covid-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech was a “victory” over his political rival João Doria, the governor of São Paulo who has backed the Chinese company.

Bolsonaro and Doria have had a series of public rows over the experimental CoronaVac vaccine since the president last month cancelled a deal made by the Ministry of Health and the state of São Paulo for 46 million doses of it. Doria, who plans to run for the presidency in 2022, said at the time that Bolsonaro’s decision was criminal.

The president, known as “Trump of the Tropics” for his populist platform, said Brazilians were being used as guinea pigs for CoronaVac and questioned its safety. The regulator suspended the trials following the death of a participant, which is a standard procedure but one that the president used to attack his rival.

“Death, disablement, anomaly. This is the vaccine that Doria wants to force the people of São Paulo to take,” Bolsonaro said on Tuesday.

Dimas Covas, president of the São Paulo-based Instituto de Butantan, the research body working with Sinovac to test and eventually produce CoronaVac, said trials could resume this week. He told a press conference the health regulator, known as Anvisa, was aware the participant’s death was not related to the vaccine.

[…]But Covas then accused the regulator, saying the decision to suspend the trials was needlessly stoking fear among the public and the thousands of participants in the late-stage clinical trials.

“[Anvisa] created an environment that is most unfortunate because of the fact the vaccine is made in association with China. They created this discrediting without reason. For what?” Covas said.

[…]Marcos Caramuru de Paiva, Brazil’s ambassador to China from 2016 to 2018, said the US presidential election would be a factor in how the vaccine conflict played out.

Bolsonaro and his inner circle were heavily influenced by US President Donald Trump’s tough-on-China policy, but now he was on his way out of the White House, the Brazilian president had less motivation to pursue such a policy with a trading partner as important as China, he said.

“The Brazilian government fears a Chinese retaliation and [Bolsonaro’s] discourse is purely ideological, it is not tied to reality,” Caramuru de Paiva said.

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