A health worker prepares a vaccine in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Picture: Pilar Olivares/Reuters
A health worker prepares a vaccine in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Picture: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

All roads lead to international co-operation

By Opinion Time of article published Apr 13, 2021

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Professor Karin Costa Vazquez

The inevitable question is: “What do we need to turn it around?” when the third minister of health bureau was fired in less than a year and at the height of escalating levels of Covid-19 in Brazil. Vaccine, governance, citizenship. The list is long.

Until now, there has been little talk about the importance of international co-operation, and how lack of it has kept us from consistently moving forward in the response to the epidemic.

While China has made a public commitment to vaccinate 500 million people (to cover about 40% of its population) by June this year, and as India is leading to produce the immunization and to implement the largest vaccination campaign in the world, Brazil has spent months denying the need for the vaccine, criticising other countries and ignoring international partnerships for the distribution of vaccines.

Now Brazil, mired in a political dispute, is having to negotiate with suppliers to buy the vaccine.

Brazil has consistently gone against the principles of science, economic rationality and humanity. Experience shows any serious measures necessary to face global pandemic requires Brazil to co-operate with other countries.

In 2020, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro advocated against any forms of vaccines, especially the Chinese one. His closest allies have taken turns attacking China as the cause of the epidemic over and over.

Bolsonaro stated the federal government would not buy the Chinese vaccine and was suspending the vaccine registration process with the National Health Supervision Administration. (Anvisa).

The federal government's attacks on China were suspended in January of this year when China delayed the delivery of inputs to the production of the vaccine at Brazil’s Butantan Institute.

Bolsonaro saw approval requirements plummet as Brazil faced the risk of a vaccine shutdown.

As the end of the emergency aid, public opinion became increasingly favourable to vaccination. The worsening pandemic in Manaus and the weak management of the crisis, led government to not prevent Chinese Huawei from participating in the bidding of the 5G network in Brazil in return for the rapid delivery of the inputs.

India also came to the rescue. In a polytheistic dispute to begin immunizations prior to Governor Joao Doria (PSDB-SP), Bolsonaro announced a special flight would bring back two million Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India.

The Indian government, however, had not authorised the export of any vaccine before the onset of immunity in its country. A week later, India announced it would start sending doses of the vaccine to its neighbours and “key partners”. Brazil was not on the list.

Without sufficient doses, the Brazilian government found itself forced to abstain from voting on the Indian proposal in the WTO for suspending the patents of vaccines against Covid-19, preventing a diplomatic crisis with India and ensuring the continuity of immunizations in Brazil.

A few days later, Brazil received the two million vaccines from India, but the political victory of Doria had already been sealed with the beginning of immunization in Sao Paulo. The government again opposed the Indian proposal at the WTO, a strategic error that could cost India's patience, and immunity in Brazil.

Establishing a win-win partnership with China, India, Israel, Russia and other suppliers of immunizations through equal dialogues and consultations is the best option for Brazil.

Through co-operation with China, in addition to access to vaccines and related supplies, Brazil also gains the transfer of technology, combined with public policies and long-term investments, which could enable Brazil to overcome the structural dependency of imports of the vaccines. But that is virtually impossible at the moment due to lobbying by large pharmaceutical companies and governments such as the United States.

Contrary to what has been seen in the negotiations with the U.S. Pfizer, there have been no reports of demands from Chinese Sinovac Biotech or the Serum Institute of India to make the Brazilian government be held responsible for possible acts of negligence, fraud or malice, or any other abusive use of the contracts for the sale of vaccines in Brazil.

Indirectly, Brazil also gains from participation by more companies in the auction of 5G. Allowing Huawei to compete on an equal basis does not mean handing over the auction to one company or country, but enabling them to make conditions for different proposals to be submitted, contrary to the United States’ will.

Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa also present the challenge of promoting co-operation in the BRICS for the production and distribution of vaccines. In 2020, Russia became the first country to register a vaccine against Covid-19 and to invite the other four members of the BRICS to co-operate with the production and distribution of the vaccine. China also announced its vaccine would become a global charitable activity so that developing countries could buy it at a reasonable and fair price.

However, BRICS failed to provide a robust collective response to the health crisis at the 12th BRICS summit hosted by Russia, but at the multilateral level, Global Alliance for vaccines and immunization (GAVI), is releasing 9.1 million doses of vaccines to Brazil. This shows once again that isolation will not help to solve the national challenges. Now is the time to co-operate.

* This article was translated from the original Portuguese and edited.

** Professor Karin Costa Vazquez is a Brazilian scholar, a researcher at BRICS Research Center in Fudan University, China, as well as an assistant dean in Jindal Global University in India.

*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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