SAO PAULO – The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state, criticized President Jair Bolsonaro for saying that people should not be required to be immunized against COVID-19 once an effective vaccine emerges.
Joao Doria told EFE in a video interview that his administration will be able to begin inoculating the state’s 46 million residents in January thanks to an accord between China’s Sinovac Biotech and Instituto Butantan, a world-renowned epidemiological center affiliated with the Sao Paulo state health department.
“The distribution will be free of charge and we already have 60 million doses, but we would like to reach 100 (million) for Brazilians in other regions. We are talking with the federal government about financing it,” the center-right governor said.
Sinovac’s drug, CoronaVac, is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials in Brazil under the supervision of Instituto Butantan.
Doria, 62, who survived coronavirus, is seen as a possible challenger to Bolsonaro in 2022.
The two politicians have clashed repeatedly since Brazil’s first COVID-19 case was detected six months ago in Sao Paulo city, the state capital.
While Doria has implemented fairly stringent measures to slow the spread of the virus, Bolsonaro, who famously dismissed COVID-19 as “a measly flu,” remains cavalier about a disease that has claimed nearly 124,000 lives in Brazil, which is second only to the United States in both deaths and cases.
Sao Paulo state accounts for almost a quarter of the country’s total coronavirus fatalities and roughly 20 percent of the 3.99 million confirmed infections.
But the daily death toll fell 14 percent in August amid a gradual economic re-opening in the state that is home to much of Brazilian industry.
When asked by EFE what the Sao Paulo state government could have done differently to reduce the damage done by the pandemic, Doria attacked Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis.
“It would have been better if we had had a leader in the country who was not a denialist and who had oriented the population to obey social distancing, who doesn’t set a bad example by frequenting public places without a mask, or promote large gatherings,” the governor said of the far-right president.
“Two discourses were established for the poorest population of the country, the people with the least access to information, they didn’t know who to believe: in the person who asks me to isolate, to use masks; or in the president of the republic, who tells me I can go out, that it’s a measly little flu and that there will only be 4,000 deaths,” Doria said.
Regarding Bolsonaro’s recent comments against mandatory vaccination, the governor was categorical.
“A president of the republic cannot make an affirmation like that in a country like Brazil. Of course it has to be obligatory,” Doria said. “Every vaccinated person saves his or her life and that of dozens of people.”
“It’s another bad example that President Bolsonaro sets for the population, because it’s forgotten that he already signed (in March) a decree instituting the requirement to provide it (the vaccine) for free and because he knows that the vaccine is the only way we return to normality,” Doria said.
The CoronaVac trials, which involve 9,000 volunteer medical professionals from five Brazilian states, are showing progress, the governor said.
“We have not had any serious side effect that could require a new study of the vaccine. If everything continues to go well, we will have consolidated final results in November and we will be able to present them to the Anvisa regulator for final approval,” he said.
“At this moment, we have 60 million doses assured, 45 million in December and 15 (million) more by March 2021. Now we want to produce 100 million vaccines to be able to send them to Brazilians in other regions,” the governor said.
“We are talking with the federal government to finance the expansion of the manufacturing capacity of Instituto Butantan, the largest producer of vaccines in the Southern Hemisphere,” Doria said.