BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil is in talks to buy another 100 million doses of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine, Communications Minister Fabio Faria said on Tuesday, as the country scrambles to procure more shots after a sluggish start to its vaccination program.
"The negotiation started about 20 days ago and the (government) is seeking to speed up the process," he wrote on Twitter.
Brazil is one of the current epicenters of the coronavirus pandemic, driven by a new highly transmissible virus variant, a slow and patchy vaccine rollout and uneven restrictions to help curb the pathogen's spread.
Brazil recorded 69,381 new cases of coronavirus and 3,321 new COVID-19 deaths, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. That takes Brazil's death toll to 378,003, the second highest in the world after the United States. Total confirmed cases now stand at 14.04 million.
President Jair Bolsonaro's government has come under fire for failing to ensure vaccine supplies fast enough. If the deal is signed, the new supply of 100 million doses would begin to be delivered at the end of the year, in order to secure supplies for next year's immunization drive, a source with direct knowledge of the subject said.
Brazil had already closed one deal for 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine produced with German partner BioNTech SE. The first delivery of that order is due to arrive next week. Between April and June, a total of 15.5 million Pfizer/BioNTech doses are due to arrive, the Health Ministry said.
Separately, Pfizer said on Tuesday that Brazil's health regulator Anvisa had authorized the vaccine to be stored at minus-20 degrees Celsius (minus-4F) for up to two weeks, which will facilitate logistics across the large tropical nation.
The Pfizer vaccine has a shelf life of six months when stored at minus-75C (minus-103F), which represents a logistical challenge in Brazil as it requires specialized freezers. By comparison, vaccines already used in Brazil against COVID-19 - Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac and AstraZeneca's shot - can be stored at temperatures of 2C to 8C.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Bill Berkrot)