Coronavirus | India’s delay in releasing vaccines is perfectly understandable: Brazilian Ambassador

Ambassador of Brazil to India, André Aranha Correa do Lago. File.   | Photo Credit: V.V. KRISHNAN

After weeks of suspense, Brazil received the Indian-made Covishield vaccine on Friday, after the government decided to clear commercial exports to Brazil and Morocco. In an interview to The Hindu’s Suhasini Haidar thanking the government and the Serum Institute of India (SII), Brazilian Ambassador Andre Aranha Correa do Lago spoke of the challenges ahead for Brazil, which has the world’s second highest deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

Two weeks after President Bolsonaro wrote to Prime Minister Modi, 2 million doses of Covishield vaccine from SII are finally reaching Brazil. What’s your reaction?

These vaccines were ordered and paid for by Fiocruz, the federal institution that is going to be the producer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in Brazil. It’s a public company, and so, unlike Pune’s SII, it started production much later, after the approvals came. As an interim arrangement, Fiocruz decided to order these 2 million vaccines for the beginning of the immunisation programme in Brazil that was originally scheduled for January 20. Apart from the letter you spoke of, our Health Ministers (Dr. Harshvardhan and General Eduardo Pazuello) spoke, and the Foreign Ministers (S. Jaishankar and Ernesto Araujo) spoke on two occasions (on January 16 and January 19), and in all our communications, we too had stressed the need for the vaccines by January 20. But President Bolsonaro very clearly stated that Brazil would not interfere with Indian vaccination needs. I think this is a very important point. Because Brazil, like India, knows how delicate these issues are in internal politics. Since our health regulator ANVISA had by then cleared two vaccines for emergency use: the AstraZeneca [vaccine] as well as [China’s] Sinovac, and [as] we had produced enough of Sinovac at the Butantan Institute, we decided to start with those. There was also some doubt about whether India would release the exports, given that our flight last week had not received permissions. Eventually once India cleared them, we dispatched the vaccines on an Emirates cargo plane, and are very grateful for that.

Given that India and Brazil have a close partnership and they are both part of BRICS, was there some disappointment that India did not clear the exports sooner?

There was some frustration that vaccines were not there before. But the reasons given by India were perfectly understandable because Brazil also would not export its vaccines before starting to vaccinate its own population.

Also read | India says COVID-19 vaccine supply to other countries will take ‘some time’

Do you expect more shipments from India in the future? Also, will Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin likely to receive ANVISA clearance?

I understand Bharat Biotech have already asked for the approval of COVAX [Covaxin] at ANVISA, as some private groups would like to buy the vaccine. Much will depend on how long we will take to complete vaccinating people with the 6 million doses of Sinovac and now 2 million of Covishield that we have, and how many more would have been produced by then. Brazil is still discussing the role of private vaccination, and whether that is needed, given our national procurement.

Also read: Bharat Biotech to supply Covaxin to Brazil

The Brazilian government went ahead with Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccinations despite questions about its efficacy…

Well, there were some issues and questions. But let me tell you, in a very unique decision ANVISA decided to broadcast its decision process and the final analysis of all the vaccine candidates live on television, so people could see how transparent and unmanipulated the process was. The fact is, from a scientific point of view, the numbers that [Sinovac] presented were above the level of efficiency required.

Despite that, Brazil’s entire response to the coronavirus has been criticised, right from the denial of the virus to President Bolsonaro’s criticism of vaccines and more than 200,000 deaths now. Should Brazil have reached out to India earlier?

I think that would have been difficult because our State-owned institutes, Fiocruz and Butantan, could not have gone ahead with the production of vaccines earlier, without waiting for the approvals process. Those have taken time, naturally, and many countries have taken time approving vaccines.

Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis, what has this entire vaccine process meant for India-Brazil ties?

Well, I think that one of the biggest problems in our relations is that most Brazilians don’t see India as the country does today, and vice versa. And I believe that this case has shown very strongly to all of Brazil, which now knows that India is the largest producer of vaccines in the world, that India is an industrialised country, not only the romantic picture of many religions, Yoga etc., that most Brazilians know about. I think that it’s very important that India understands how much Brazil has advanced as well, and both must build a relationship based on a contemporary approach to each other. We are both advanced but developing countries that have the same challenges like the economic divide, the demographic and skill divide, etc. So, if we get together, it’s a total of 1.5 billion people, which have the same willingness and drive to make the life of all their populations better.

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Printable version | Mar 1, 2021 6:40:32 AM |

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