Brazil's Bolsonaro rejects coronavirus vaccine from China

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro listens during a presentation at the Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. The Brazilian government announced the results of clinical tests with use of the drug Nitazoxanide for COVID-19 treatment. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday rejected the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential vaccine against the coronavirus being developed by a Chinese company and tested in a state governed by a political rival, prompting some to question if he was allowing politics to steer public health decisions.

“The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” Bolsonaro said on his social media channels, adding that the vaccine has not yet completed testing, which is the case with all potential vaccines for the virus. “My decision is to not purchase such a vaccine.”

Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello had announced the purchase Tuesday in a meeting with Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a foe of Bolsonaro’s whose state is participating in the vaccine’s development through its Butantan Institute. The cost of the acquisition was estimated at 2 billion reais ($360 million).

“Butantan’s vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” Pazuello said.

A Brazilian Health Ministry document issued Monday and shared by Sao Paulo’s government Wednesday confirmed that the ministry had put in writing its intention to buy the doses of the “Butantan Vaccine-Sinovac/Covid-19” for an estimated price of $10.30 each.

The document made explicit the purchase was contingent upon the health regulator's approval. Bolsonaro told journalists that protocol will be canceled.

Claudio Couto, a political science professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university, felt the president's move had little to do with the virus and was more a way to hurt Doria, who is widely cited as a likely challenger to Bolsonaro's 2022 reelection bid.

“His concern is to be a strong candidate for reelection, and that often means giving trouble to his adversaries,” Couto said.