Brazil on Monday made a diplomatic push to guarantee an Indian-made shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine from UK drug maker AstraZeneca in hopes of avoiding export restrictions that could delay vaccinations during the world‘s second deadliest outbreak.
In parallel, the Brazilian private clinics have signed a preliminary contract for an alternative injection from Bharat Biotech from India, despite the lack of public results from late-stage studies.
The turmoil from the Brazilian government and private sector underscored how Latin America’s largest nation, once an example of the success of mass vaccination in developing countries, has fallen behind its peers in the coronavirus vaccination race.
Brazil’s Fiocruz Institute’s plans to import AstraZeneca’s vaccine in bulk, fill it on-site, and administer it would hold just 1 million doses by the second week of February, the head of the state-funded biomedical center told Reuters last week.
Amid mounting criticism of its slow response and close to 200,000 deaths, second only to the US, Brazil is now rushing to import finished cans, catching up with neighboring Chile and Argentina, where vaccinations are being administered.
The chief executive of the Serum Institute of India told Reuters on Sunday that he expected the Indian government to restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines.
This led to red flags in Brasilia, where health authority Anvisa approved on New Year’s Eve to import 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India. Two people familiar with the matter said diplomats were working to confirm that the shipment was not subject to any export ban. Fiocruz confirmed that the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was leading the talks.
The Brazilian government is optimistic that it can import the vaccines from India and all hurdles will be resolved diplomatically, said a Brazilian official with knowledge of the matter.
Separately, an association of private Brazilian clinics announced plans to purchase 5 million doses of a vaccine developed by Indian company Bharat Biotech, the day after the Indian health authority granted approval for the emergency.
Bharat Biotech has not yet applied for approval for its Covaxin vaccine from Brazilian health authority Anvisa, and the agency said it must undergo Phase III trials in the country.
Geraldo Barbosa, head of the Brazilian Association of Vaccination Clinics (ABCVAC), who will lead a delegation to India on Monday, said a memorandum of understanding had already been signed with Bharat Biotech.
“This should be the first vaccine to become available in the private market in Brazil,” he said, adding that doses of Covaxin should arrive in Brazil in mid-March to be sold by private clinics after regulators there Have approved vaccine.
Anvisa said in a statement on Sunday that Covaxin does not fit the continuous data-submission process for vaccine registration and the vaccine would have to go through late-stage clinical trials in Brazil.
On Sunday, the Indian Medicines Agency DCGI approved Covaxin and AstraZeneca’s emergency vaccine, the first approvals of vaccines in India.
The swift prosecution of the native Bharat biotech vaccine has been answered by industry experts and opposition lawmakers as the company has not released data on its effectiveness.
Covaxin is in the largest such late-stage study in India. A spokeswoman for Bharat Biotech said 24,000 volunteers had been recruited from a target of 26,000 for the Phase III trial, which began in November.
The pharmaceutical company, based in Hyderabad in southern India, manufactures millions of doses of vaccines against hepatitis, Zika, Japanese encephalitis and other diseases.