The head of Brazil's health regulator Anvisa has asked the country's vaccine-skeptic President Jair Bolsonaro to retract statements he made criticizing the agency for authorizing the vaccination of children against COVID-19.
In a letter to Bolsonaro made public late Saturday, retired rear admiral Antonio Barra Torres asked the president to back up his statement that there were undisclosed "interests" behind the vaccine decision or else retract his words.
Bolsonaro criticized Anvisa on Thursday for approving the use for children aged 5 to 11 years of the pediatric vaccine made by Pfizer Inc., saying that he had not heard of children dying of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
"What is behind this? What are the interests of vaccine maniacs?" Bolsonaro stated in a radio interview.
Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who has bragged about not being vaccinated himself and has consistently cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of coronavirus vaccines, said the shots could have side effects on kids but gave no evidence.
Anvisa and health regulators around the world have found that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for those from age 5 and up. According to the council of state health secretaries, at least 300 children aged 5 to 11 have died in Brazil from COVID-19.
The president's office did not respond to a request for comment on the letter, which came just days after another divergence between Bolsonaro and the military.
Brazil's Army differed from the president last week on how to deal with COVID-19. It ordered soldiers to get vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distance, and warned them against spreading false news about the pandemic.