SAO PAULO – The southeastern Brazilian state of Sao Paulo said on Thursday it will seek authorization for the emergency use of Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s COVID-19 vaccine, which has proven effective in domestic clinical trials.
During the announcement, Gov. Joao Doria reaffirmed his intention to start rolling out the vaccine on Jan. 25 once it is given the green light by Brazil’s Anvisa health regulator, which has 10 days to review the request.
“I hope that Anvisa maintains its independence, its autonomy, for the sake of science and life, and that at no time takes into account any type of ideological or other type of pressure” aimed at thwarting the approval of that vaccine, Doria said in reference to potential interference by rightist President Jair Bolsonaro.
Instituto Butantan, a leading biomedical center that will manufacture the CoronaVac in Brazil, and Sao Paulo state’s government have led the way in promoting Sinovac’s vaccine.
But Bolsonaro, a frequent China critic, has consistently downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19, expressed contempt for the CoronaVac and warned that the different coronavirus vaccines could cause a range of harmful side effects.
“Science’s conquests are grounded in science, research. They’re not political or ideological feats,” said Doria, a potential rival of Bolsonaro’s in the 2022 election who has sparred with the president throughout the pandemic over the management of the medical emergency and the arrival of the vaccine.
Instituto Butantan coordinated nationwide trials of the CoronaVac, administering the shot to around 12,400 health professionals who have been on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
Despite being one of the country’s hardest hit by the coronavirus, with more than 7.8 million confirmed cases and nearly 200,000 COVID-19-related deaths, Brazil has been slow to launch an immunization campaign.
Sao Paulo’s government said the trials conducted in Brazil showed the vaccine entirely prevented moderate to serious cases of COVID-19, including those that would have required hospitalization, while it was 78 percent effective in preventing mild cases of the potentially fatal respiratory disease.
If granted regulatory approval, CoronaVac would become the first vaccine to be rolled out in Brazil.
Despite Bolsonaro’s criticism, the Brazilian government plans to acquire some 100 million doses of the CoronaVac. Those supplies will be in addition to purchases being negotiated with other vaccine developers, including a partnership between British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
Other vaccines that are already in use around the world, including ones developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have been found to be 95 percent effective in clinical trials.
But the logistics for distributing those vaccines is more complicated due to their cold-storage requirements, with the Pfizer vaccine having to be kept at -70 C (-94 F).