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.
The vaccine 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." He has instead pushed to acquire another vaccine being developed by Oxford University in Britain.
Both vaccines are currently in final-stage clinical trials. Brazil is helping to test both of them.
Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a top Bolsonaro opponent, has backed CoronaVac, sealing a deal between Sinovac and Brazil's Butantan Institute to test and produce the vaccine in his state.
Bolsonaro called CoronaVac "Joao Doria's Chinese vaccine."
Doria fired back that the doses ordered by the health ministry would in fact be produced locally by the Butantan Institute, the largest vaccine supplier in Brazil.
"The Butantan vaccine is Brazil's vaccine, for all Brazilians. We don't evaluate vaccines on political or ideological criteria," he said.
The health ministry attributed the row to a "misinterpretation" of Pazuello's remarks.
"There is no committment" 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 the new coronavirus despite studies showing it is ineffective.
Adding to Pazuello's awkward news day, the health ministry said he had been diagnosed with the virus himself.
It did not give details on his symptoms.