SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil is close to signing a second contract with Pfizer Inc for another 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, of which 35 million shots are due to be delivered in October, Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Monday.
That raises to 200 million doses of the Pfizer shot for Brazil this year, he said, aimed at relieving the shortage of vaccines contributing to the world’s second-deadliest outbreak outside the United States.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second-largest city, announced over the weekend that it was delaying second doses of CoronaVac, the vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech, because it was running out of shots. The second dose will only be applied every other day until more supplies arrive from the finishing facility at the Butantan biomedical center in Sao Paulo.
Most COVID-19 shots administered so far in Brazil have been CoronaVac, but the Butantan finishing line halted two weeks ago due to delayed shipments of active ingredients from China.
A new load of the ingredient, enough for 5 million doses of CoronaVac, arrived in Brazil on April 19.
So far, Butantan has delivered 42 million doses of CoronaVac to the national immunization program, compared to 26.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine filled and finished by Fiocruz biomedical center in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil’s Health Ministry received its first 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine last week.
Speaking to industry leaders in Sao Paulo, Queiroga said the second contract with Pfizer would double the 100 million doses already signed for the vaccine, which are due for delivery by the end of September.
Queiroga blamed what he saw as failures in intensive care wards for the large toll caused by COVID-19 in Brazil, which has passed 407,000 confirmed deaths.
“We cannot accept that out of every 10 patients who are intubated, eight die. That is why we have so many deaths, because health care does not give the answer we expect from it,” said Queiroga, who took office in March as Brazil’s fourth health minister tackling its worsening pandemic.
On Monday, a parliamentary inquiry began to hear testimony in a Senate investigation into the handling of the coronavirus crisis by the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly denied the gravity of the virus, opposed lockdowns and was slow to ensure vaccine supplies last year.
(Reporting by Eduardo Simoes; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Aurora Ellis)