RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazil aims to start COVID-19 vaccination nationwide on January 20, said the head of the national association of mayors on Thursday (January 14), as Britain banned arrivals from the country over fears of a new, domestically-grown variant of the coronavirus.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been criticized for downplaying the severity of the world’s second deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, is under increasing pressure to initiate vaccinations when the second wave surpasses the first.
He also faced possible international isolation after Britain said it would ban travelers from Brazil, several other South American countries and Portugal over fears of a new virus variant.
Japan’s health ministry said on Sunday that it had detected the new variant in four travelers from Brazil’s northern Amazonas state. This one features 12 mutations, including those also found in the high-infection variant recently discovered in Britain and South Africa that are starting to circulate around the world.
Researchers from the Oswaldo Cruz Amazônia Foundation said this week a new variant discovered in Japan was likely to emerge in northern Brazil between December and January. They say it could contribute to a sharp rise in cases in Amazonas state, although they are doing more research to determine if it is more contagious than previous versions of the coronavirus.
Amazonas state, where nearly 6,000 people have died from COVID-19, is now suffering from a devastating second wave that pushed emergency services to a breaking point.
Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of the Pan American Health Organization, was not prepared to show a spike in infections in Amazonas with the new variant.
“It’s also happening in a lot of different cities and states, maybe because of the holidays, the summer, with more travel and people out, and the easing of social distancing measures,” Barbosa said.
READ: Britain is looking for ways to protect itself from the Brazilian variant of COVID-19, says PM Johnson
Jonas Donizette, president of the national mayors association, said in a statement on Thursday that vaccinations would begin on Wednesday if all went according to the government’s plan.
“If not on the 20th, for any logistical problems, Thursday 21st,” he wrote. “Inoculation will begin with 8 million doses, distributed to 5 million Brazilians.”
The government is planning a January 19 ceremony to mark the start of injections, according to sources involved in the plan.
Although the government has refused to provide an official start date for vaccinations, it says vaccinations cannot start before January 20. The Health Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Two vaccines – one made by AstraZeneca Plc and one developed by Sinovac Biotech China – will form the basis of the government’s vaccination plan. Both have applied for emergency use in Brazil, with health regulator Anvisa expected to decide on Sunday whether to allow them.
Anvisa said on Thursday it had requested missing information from a Brazilian biomedical center partnering with vaccine developers Fiocruz and Butantan. In the Butantan case, Anvisa requested additional efficacy data from a Phase III trial of the Chinese vaccine conducted in Brazil.
Vaccination of the country’s population will take a maximum of 16 months, Deputy Health Minister Elcio Franco said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Brazil has imported 6 million doses of Sinovac vaccine and sent planes to take 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is made by the Indian Serum Institute.
The Health Ministry said flight departures from Recife in northeastern Brazil had been postponed until late Friday.