By Gabriel Toueg
SAO PAULO (AA) - Brazil’s Sao Paulo state vaccinated the first person in the country Sunday against COVID-19 minutes after the country’s health regulator approved the emergency use of both Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine and a vaccine produced by Astrazeneca and the University of Oxford.
Governor Joao Doria hurried to vaccinate 56-year-old nurse Monica Calazans, who later appeared at a press conference beside him and urged people “not to be afraid.”
At least 111 other health professionals from Hospital das Clinicas were also vaccinated.
With the much awaited green light, vaccination against COVID-19 can now begin in the country. Although Sao Paulo was officially scheduled to start vaccinating on Jan. 25, the doses will start to be widely administered in the state on Monday.
After failing to import roughly 2 million doses from India last week, the federal government had asked Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute to immediately surrender its 6 million doses of CoronaVac so it can start vaccinating on Jan. 20.
All this comes after President Jair Bolsonaro and Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello both attacked the Chinese vaccine for weeks and questioned its effectiveness. However, as there was no other vaccine on hand, the solution was to resort to CoronaVac, which will be produced by the Butantan Institute in the coming weeks, although export of the necessary supplies is still pending Chinese government approval.
The details and logistics of the national plan have yet to be revealed by the Health Ministry.
Pazuello himself also called a last-minute press conference Sunday which took place while Doria spoke alongside the immunized nurse and the Butantan Institute’s president.
Seemingly irritated, the minister said Sao Paulo state “violated the law” by having already started immunization, which was later denied by Sao Paulo lawyers.
Pazuello tried to eclipse Doria by accusing the governor of a “marketing ploy.” The minister said vaccines were already in his hands, which was shown by the local press not to be true.
“We could have started, as a marketing move, [applying] the first dose to a person. But out of respect for all Brazilians, the Ministry of Health will not do that. We will not make a marketing ploy," said Pazuello, referring to Doria.
Although Anvisa, as the country’s regulatory agency for medicines, unanimously approved the emergency use of both vaccines, the agency conditioned authorization of CoronaVac to the signing of a term of commitment in which the Chinese manufacturer must commit to sending and updating data regarding the immunological response of the vaccine - a concern of Anvisa’s technical team.
The endorsement was decided in a meeting of the agency’s collegiate board with the presence of the five directors and broadcast live.
"The vaccine is a lesson for you, authoritarians who despise life," said Doria after Anvisa’s approval.
“Today is V day. It is the day of the vaccine. it is the day of truth. It is the day of victory. It is the day of life,” said the governor.
Sao Paulo will separate its CoronaVac quota and deliver the rest to the Health Ministry, which has invited governors to participate in a “symbolic event of receiving the vaccines” on Monday morning. The event will take place in a Guarulhos airport shed in Sao Paulo at 7 a.m.
The CoronaVac vaccines will leave from there, heading to the states.
Governors Flavio Dino from Maranhao, Eduardo Leite from Rio Grande do Sul, Fatima Bezerra from Rio Grande do Norte, Romeu Zema from Minas Gerais and Helder Barbalho from Para are confirmed to attend.