Brazil buying as many vaccines as it can, criticism unwarranted, says economy minister

Brazil's Economy Minister Paulo Guedes attends a seminar on the resumption of the Brazilian economy, in Brasilia
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Gabriel Ponte and Jamie McGeever
·2 min read
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By Gabriel Ponte and Jamie McGeever

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil is trying to buy as many COVID-19 vaccines as possible, and accusations it has focused its efforts on only one manufacturer are unjust, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said on Monday.

Speaking in an online briefing, Guedes said the government's biggest challenge this year is rolling out a nationwide vaccination program and that he has full confidence this will be accomplished.

"The big challenge is mass vaccination. I trust and have faith in on everybody who is collaborating on mass vaccinations. We have the logistics, we have the capacity," Guedes said.

"Brazil really is trying to buy all the vaccines. The criticism that we would have focused on just one does not stack up," Guedes said, adding that are a lot of people "climbing on corpses" to score political points.

Brazil has the second highest death count in the world from the virus, and President Jair Bolsonaro has come under heavy criticism from politicians, the press and the public for his stance on the pandemic and handling of the crisis.

Official figures show fatalities from the pandemic total 217,037 people, and the number of coronavirus cases is now nearly 8.9 million.

The vaccination process only got underway a week ago after health regulator Anvisa approved emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd and Britain's AstraZeneca. But the process has been plagued by delays.

Until now, Brazil's widely criticized vaccine rollout has depended on the shot developed by Sinovac in partnership with Sao Paulo's Butantan Institute.

Bolsonaro had previously decried the Chinese shot as being useless, but his government is becoming increasingly reliant on it to tame the world's second most deadly coronavirus outbreak after the United States.

Guedes said that for economic growth to take off Brazil must accelerate the mass vaccination process. He insisted that it has always been the case that public health and the economy are interlinked.

Brazil is currently experiencing a devastating second wave of the virus, with the death toll in some northern cities like Manaus surging due to the shortage of oxygen tanks.

Economists say the economy could contract in the first quarter, with the second wave being a major factor. Guedes is on record as saying the economy could grow more than 4% this year.

(Reporting by Jamie McGeever and Gabriel Ponte; Editing by Chris Reese and Angus MacSwan)