Coronavirus | India clears vaccine exports to Brazil after delay

Coronavirus | India clears vaccine exports to Brazil after delay

Delay had led to a flurry of messages from Brazil

Brazil is set to collect two million doses of Serum Institute’s (SII) Covishield vaccine, two weeks after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their “urgent” clearance, sources confirmed to The Hindu. The consignment, which was due to be collected by a special Brazilian plane last week, was delayed as the government had not yet finalised its plans for exports of Indian-made vaccines.

An Indian cargo plane carrying the vaccine shipment for Brazil took off “early this morning,” sources said.

The delay had led to a flurry of messages from Brazil, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had spoken to his Brazilian counterpart Ernesto Araujo to reassure him on January 16. “The Minister assured [Mr. Araujo] of our support and confirmation that the [consignment] will be going as planned,” sources said.

Brazil among ‘key partners’

After the clearance of grant assistance of the vaccines to neighbouring countries, including Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius and Seychelles this week, officials confirmed that Brazil is among the “key partners” who would receive export permissions for their orders next.

Brazil had first turned to India for the Covishield vaccine earlier this month to tide over the gap in production of its own units amidst an emerging health crisis. In a letter to Mr. Modi on January 8, Mr. Bolsonaro asked him to “expedite the shipping” of the consignment contracted earlier, and his government had announced that it was sending a special plane to collect the vaccines on January 14.

However, after India refused to give the “technical clearances” in time for the plane, Mr. Bolsonaro decided to go ahead with its vaccination programme using Chinese-developed Sinovac that had been manufactured at a local institute. In an operation concluded on Tuesday, Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello announced that the country had distributed six million doses of Sinovac, manufactured by the Butantan Institute to all of Brazil’s 27 states in order to complete the first phase of vaccinating front line professionals. The decision was a major U-turn for Mr. Bolsonaro, who earlier rejected the Chinese vaccine over concerns about its efficacy and vowed to cancel all contracts of Sinovac “on his watch”, and signals the pressure he is under about his government’s handling of the pandemic.

To resend plane

Brazilian officials said they had awaited confirmation from India so that they could resend their special plane that had been diverted for other medical duties in the interim.

“We still do need the Indian-made vaccines that have been contracted for,” one official said.

Brazil’s first phase of vaccination will target 49 million people out of its total population of 212 million. Health regulator ANVISA has cleared both Sinovac and the U.K.’s AstraZeneca vaccine, both of which will be manufactured in Brazil, at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paolo and the Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz) Foundation in Rio De Janeiro. The government has now contracted for 100 million doses from AstraZeneca and 50 million from Sinovac. However, officials said that speed is of the essence, given that more than 2,13,000 Brazilians have died of COVID-19, and the country has faced shortages of medical supplies, oxygen tanks and, now vaccines.

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