BRASILIA (Reuters) -Pfizer Inc repeatedly offered to sell its COVID-19 vaccine to Brazil’s Health Ministry between August and November last year, but got no answer from the government, Pfizer’s chief executive for Latin America told lawmakers on Thursday.
A Senate commission is investigating whether President Jair Bolsonaro’s government mishandled the pandemic by failing to secure vaccines in time to curb a surge that has killed more than 430,000 Brazilians – the worst COVID-19 death toll outside the United States.
Pfizer executive Carlos Murillo said that on Sept. 12 the company’s CEO sent a letter to Bolsonaro and others in his cabinet, including then-health minister Eduardo Pazuello, expressing interest in providing Brazil with vaccines.
The letter went unanswered for two months, the parliamentary commission has established.
Pazuello, who was replaced last month as criticism mounted over vaccination delays, failed to take Pfizer up on its offers last year because he believed Brazil should rely on British and Chinese vaccines produced in the country, two sources told Reuters.
Production issues and bottlenecks in China have slowed local output of those vaccines. Just 11% of Brazilian adults have been fully vaccinated.
Pazuello is due to testify before the commission on May 19.
In his weekly live internet broadcast on Thursday, Bolsonaro said Brazil secured a better deal this year than what was offered by Pfizer earlier, citing legal and health uncertainties as the vaccine had yet to receive regulatory approval last year.
The Brazilian government eventually negotiated with Pfizer for 100 million doses in a contract signed in March, with the first 1 million doses arriving in late April.
Another lot of 628,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine landed in Brazil from Belgium on Wednesday, the Health Ministry said, adding that it has so far distributed 1.6 million doses of the shot in the national immunization program.
Murillo said Pfizer is about to sign a contract for 100 million more doses for delivery to Brazil in the fourth quarter.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Maria Carolina Marcello; Editing by Brad Haynes and Bill Berkrot)