Bolsonaro backs vaccine campaign despite personal opposition

·2-min read
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (R) listens to his Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, during the launch of the national vaccination plan against Covid-19 at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, on December 16, 2020

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro performed an about-turn on Wednesday as he backed a mass coronavirus immunization campaign a day after warning about vaccine side effects.

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said the campaign could start as soon as February in a country that has seen seven million infections and almost 183,000 deaths amongst its 212 million population.

"After the storm, the calm. The 27 (state) governors have just one goal: the common good, the return to normal," said the far-right Bolsonaro during a ceremony to present an immunization campaign that has come under heavy criticism.

Bolsonaro said he would this week sign an order to release 20 billion reais (around $3.2 billion) to buy doses "of a vaccine that meets the safety and effectiveness criteria" of Brazil's health regulatory agency Anvisa.

He promised to make the vaccine "free and not compulsory."

However, his support for the campaign came a day after he told the YouTube channel of a well-known television presenter that "I won't get vaccinated. It's my problem. Full stop."

Bolsonaro contracted the coronavirus in July but recovered quickly.

Pazuello revealed on Tuesday that Brazil is negotiating the purchase of 350 million doses of coronavirus vaccines for 2021, including 210 million of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is largely made in Brazil by the Fiocruz institute, and 70 million of Pfizer's vaccine.

The minister said priority would be given to "all vaccines made" in Brazil, including that produced by the Chinese laboratory Sinovac, which Bolsonaro has repeatedly discredited.

Production of that vaccine, called CoronaVac, began last week at the Butantan Institute with support from Sao Paulo state governor Joao Doria, who is expected to challenge Bolsonaro for the presidency in 2022.

Once authorization is obtained for the vaccine its distribution would start "within five days," Pazuello said, with the government aiming to vaccinate the entire population in 16 months.

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