Brazil's vaccination plan is assailed as 'incompetent'

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Updated: Dec 13, 2020, 11:47 PM(IST)

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro looks on during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil  Photograph:( Reuters )

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The Brazilian government says the optimal target is more than 70 per cent of the population but provides no details on how to reach that figure

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro faced scathing criticism Sunday over his government's plan — or lack thereof, opponents said — to vaccinate the population against Covid-19.

Brazil, the country with the second-highest death toll in the pandemic, published its vaccination plan Saturday with some notable holes, including a start date to begin immunizing and details of how to reach its target of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population.

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That prompted a new salvo of criticism for the far-right president, who has persistently defied expert advice on containing the pandemic and recently declared he did not plan to be vaccinated himself.

"President Jair Bolsonaro's murderous stupidity in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has surpassed all limits," leading newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo said in a front-page editorial.

"Enough shenanigans with the vaccine!"

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Rival daily Estado de Sao Paulo was equally harsh, condemning the government's "lethal incompetence."

The vaccination plan, which the Supreme Court required the government to present, provides for initial immunization of about 14 million high-risk people, including health workers, the elderly and indigenous Brazilians.

It envisions three subsequent phases reaching a total of 51.6 million people, about 24 per cent of the population.

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It says the optimal target is more than 70 per cent of the population but provides no details on how to reach that figure.

Public health experts were bluntly critical of the plan.

"The health ministry is trying to make the Brazilian people and the Supreme Court look like clowns," tweeted the microbiologist Natalia Pasternak, a regular critic of the government's response to Covid-19.

She pointed out that the plan counts on 70 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine being available even though their purchase is still being negotiated, and it provides no information on how they will be stored at the required -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit).

The criticism came on the same day Folha published a poll finding that 22 per cent of Brazilians do not plan to be vaccinated against Covid-19, up from nine per cent in August.

Critics say Bolsonaro's sceptical comments are deterring many Brazilians from getting vaccinated.

He has downplayed the virus as a "little flu," and said Thursday that "we're at the tail end of the pandemic."

Covid-19 vaccines have been swept up in a political battle in Brazil between Bolsonaro and a likely presidential rival, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, who is pushing to immunize people in his state with Chinese-developed vaccine CoronaVac, over the president's objections.

The federal vaccination plan does not include CoronaVac. Doria's government has secured 46 million doses of it and wants to start immunizing people on January 25.

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