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Brazil’s Bolsonaro gives nod to private sector buying COVID-19 shots, AstraZeneca balks

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday said he has approved a group of private sector companies to buy 33 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca Plc, something the British drugmaker firm said cannot happen “at this moment.”

Speaking at a virtual banking conference, Bolsonaro said half of the shots would be for employees of the companies buying them, and the other half would go to the government’s national immunization program.

Newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported that the proposal came from a group of business leaders on a conference call on Monday to discuss which firms and organizations would participate.

“I want to make it very clear that the federal government is in favor of this group … bringing the vaccine here to immunize 33 million people, at zero cost for the federal government,” Bolsonaro said.

AstraZeneca, however, said in a statement on Tuesday that all of its vaccine supply “at this moment” is only available to governments and multilateral organizations around the world. “It is not possible to make vaccines available to the private sector,” it said.

Several companies denied reports that they had joined the initiative, including hospital group DASA SA, which said in a statement it is seeking to understand the commercial availability of vaccines through its suppliers.

The national industry lobby CNI, however, said that it was backing an effort by some companies to import vaccines privately, while respecting the priority given to the public immunization plan, a spokesman for the CNI said.

Brazil’s nationwide vaccination process got underway just over a week ago but has been slow and patchy thus far, with shipments of doses from India and China subject to delay.

Bolsonaro, who has played down the severity of COVID-19, has insisted he will not take a vaccine.

Meanwhile, Brazilian biomedical center Butantan expects supplies for around 8.5 million doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech to arrive by Feb. 3, its director said on Tuesday.

Butantan Director Dimas Covas said he hopes the initial shipment of about 5,400 liters of active ingredients, enough to fill and finish some 8.5 million doses, would be followed by a similar load shortly after.

He also said Butantan plans to have a factory fully producing the Chinese vaccine by early next year.

Graphic: Tracking the vaccine race: http://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/VACCINE-TRACKER/xegpbqnlovq/

Graphic: COVID-19 Global tracker, Brazil: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/countries-and-territories/brazil/

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo; Writing by Jamie McGeever in Brasilia; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Marguerita Choy)

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