Brazilian governors met with Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello on Tuesday to ensure broad access to COVID-19 vaccines amid concerns the government will fail to secure a diverse supply of potential shots.
After the meeting, Pazuello said in a statement the federal government would acquire any effective vaccine approved by the health regulator Anvisa. He added that Brazil’s vaccination program was expected to begin at the end of February.
Before the meeting, Maranhão Governor Flavio Dino said he was seeking a Supreme Court injunction to allow states to buy COVID-19 vaccines that have not been approved by Anvisa, provided they were registered by regulators elsewhere such as the US, the European Union, Japan or China.
The move comes amid increasing concern about not only access to vaccines in Brazil but also the independence of Anvisa, which critics fear may be compromised by President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro, a denier of the gravity of COVID-19 and a vaccine skeptic, has stacked Anvisa with like-minded former military officers, raising fears of interference in the regulatory agency that could delay vaccine approvals.
A Supreme Court ruling would clear the way for São Paulo state to start vaccinating people in January, as planned, with doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd .
Brazil’s health ministry has so far secured access to around 140 million vaccine doses, the vast majority of them the candidate developed by AstraZeneca.
The government said on Monday it is also negotiating the purchase of 70 million doses from Pfizer.
Bolsonaro has previously said the federal government would not buy the Sinovac vaccine, even though testing in Brazil is well advanced. That has put him at loggerheads with Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a political rival expected to run against Bolsonaro in 2022.
In Tuesday’s meeting, Doria demanded by video conference that Pazuello say whether the government would buy the Chinese vaccine if approved by Anvisa.
The minister replied, in comments broadcast on Brazilian television, that all vaccines will be considered if the price is good and there is national demand.
Doria said vaccination would begin in Sao Paulo on Jan. 25, a month before the federal government’s immunization plan.