The race to produce the first Covid-19 vaccine that is “100 percent Brazilian" was launched on Friday with more than a hint of political posturing.
Sao Paulo’s Butantan biomedical institute announced in the morning it is developing a vaccine and expects to start using it in July.
Several hours later a minister said President Jair Bolsonaro’s government had submitted a request for authorization to start clinical trials on a different vaccine.
Butantan is the largest vaccine producer in Brazil and makes the CoronaVac shot produced by Chinese firm Sinovac — the most widely used against the pandemic in the South American country.
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The institute is also heavily backed by Sao Paulo state governor Joao Doria, who is widely expected to challenge Bolsonaro in next year’s general election.
“The results in pre-clinical tests were excellent," said Butantan director Dimas Covas.
The vaccine needs to be authorized by Brazil’s regulator Anvisa before it can start clinical trials in April.
Bolsonaro seems to be one step ahead of Doria in that respect, though.
His science and research minister, Marcos Pontes, a former astronaut, announced the federal government had “invested" in several Brazilian vaccines and had already requested authorization to begin clinical trials for one of them.
That one has been developed by the Ribeiro Preto faculty of medicine in Sao Paulo.
Pontes said the government will soon seek authorization for clinical trials for two more vaccines.
“It must be a coincidence that (Doria) presented this other possibility in Sao Paulo, and it’s good for the country, we need several national vaccines," said Pontes.
Brazil has faced a shortfall in vaccine doses due to import delays at the worst possible time, with record numbers of daily infections and deaths registered this week.
It has now recorded 12.3 million cases — 300,000 of them fatal — among its 212 million population.
The country only began vaccinating in mid-January. Other than CoronaVac, the only other authorized jab is AstraZeneca.
But the competing projects should allow Brazil to accelerate its vaccine rollout that has been widely criticized for being slow.
Butantan will be able to produce 40 million doses from May to July and 100 million by the end of the year, Doria said.
While the CoronaVac shot is produced using imported materials, ButanVac will be “a vaccine entirely developed and produced in Brazil," added Doria.
ButanVac, which will also be produced in Thailand and Vietnam and distributed to poorer countries, “is the response to those that deny science and life," said Doria, in a barb at Bolsonaro.
The far-right leader spent months downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus. He opposed preventative measures such as mask-wearing, restrictions on the economy and even cast doubt on the efficacy of CoronaVac.