SAO PAULO – Brazil joined on Friday the group of nations that have developed a vaccine candidate against COVID-19, a disease now being blamed for one death every 30 seconds in that South American nation.
The announcement was made on the same day that Brazil’s two-largest urban areas, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, began a more than week-long holiday period – until April 4 – aimed at slowing the rate of new coronavirus infections.
The new vaccine candidate was not unveiled by the administration of rightist President Jair Bolsonaro, who has gone from downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus to adopting an attitude of resignation toward its inexorable spread, but rather by authorities in Sao Paulo state.
In an early morning press conference, Sao Paulo Gov. Joao Doria said the new vaccine candidate developed by Instituto Butantan – a world-renowned epidemiological center affiliated with the Sao Paulo heath department – and known as Butanvac will be produced starting in May pending approval from Brazil’s health regulator and could be ready to be administered on a mass scale in July.
“It’s a historic announcement for the world,” Doria said at a press conference with a panel with the name of the new vaccine and the Brazilian flag in the background.
Instituto Butantan already is in charge of the Brazilian production of Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech’s Coronavac vaccine, the most widely used in the South American giant.
For its part, the Rio de Janeiro-based Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), Latin America’s largest medical research center, produces the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca.
The presentation of the Butanvac marks a new chapter in the heated political rivalry between Bolsonaro and Doria, one of the biggest critics of the head of state’s cavalier approach to the pandemic.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, a total of 12.3 million people in Brazil have been infected with the coronavirus to date and 303,462 people have died of COVID-19.
On Tuesday, authorities reported a record 3,251 COVID-19 deaths, or one every 27 seconds, while the 100,158 new infections reported on Thursday marked the first time since the start of the pandemic that the number of new confirmed cases had exceeded the 100,000 mark.
Due to delays in the rollout process, it remains unclear how many Brazilians will have been vaccinated against COVID-19 by the time Butanvac is in circulation, although Doria said the plan is to also export it to other countries, particularly in Latin America.
The announcement of the new vaccine candidate came as Sao Paulo, Brazil’s industrial capital and most populous city, and Rio de Janeiro, which depends on tourism revenue that has now dried up, entered a long 10-day holiday period.
Both cities also are prohibiting all non-essential business establishments – two exceptions being supermarkets and pharmacies – from operating.
Nighttime burials were authorized starting Thursday in Sao Paulo, where more than 100 deaths attributed to COVID-19 are being reported daily.
In Rio de Janeiro, Copacabana beach was nearly empty on Friday afternoon, while Ipanema beach was almost fully devoid of people except for a few surfers.