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Brazil's COVID Crisis Compounded by Slow Vaccination Campaign

Members of the community Quilombo Quilomba, descendants of African slaves, wait to receive shots of Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine, in Mage, Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil, April 7, 2021.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths remain high in Brazil as the country’s campaign to vaccinate against the disease stumbles.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Brazil recorded more than 70,000 new cases of the virus in the past day.

Its seven-day rolling average has risen to 2,820 deaths, or about one-fourth of the world’s average deaths for the same period, according to Johns Hopkins. At more than 353,000 total deaths, Brazil has the second highest toll from the pandemic, behind only the United States, which has more than 562,000.

Less than 3% of the South American nation’s population has been fully vaccinated. The U.S. has fully vaccinated more than 20% of its population, according to Johns Hopkins.

ICU wards in cities within Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area are reportedly nearly full, with many patients sharing space and oxygen bottles.

Nurses hold balloons during a protest asking for COVID-19 vaccines, in Brasilia, Brazil, April 7, 2021.
Nurses hold balloons during a protest asking for COVID-19 vaccines, in Brasilia, Brazil, April 7, 2021.

“Will we have the medicines, the oxygen, the conditions to care for this patient accordingly? Today we do. But, if cases keep growing, sometime we will fight chaos,” hospital director Altair Soares Neto told the Associated Press.

Brazil’s vaccination campaign has been slow because of supply issues. The country’s two biggest laboratories face supply constraints.

The nation’s health ministry bet on a single vaccine, the AstraZeneca shot, and after supply problems surfaced, bought only one backup, the Chinese-manufactured CoronaVac.

The vaccine situation in Brazil is an example of poor planning in a country with experience with large, successful vaccination programs, said a former health official.

"The big problem is that Brazil did not look for alternatives when it had the chance," said Claudio Maierovitch, former head of Brazil's health regulator.

China said it is considering using vaccines developed in other countries in conjunction with vaccines developed in China to boost the efficacy of China’s vaccines.

A top Chinese health expert recently told a conference that public health officials must “consider ways to solve the issue that efficacy rates of existing vaccines are not high,” citing Gao Fu, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, according to The Paper, a Chinese media outlet, Agence France-Presse reported.

People stand in a queue to get tested for the coronavirus, in Ahmedabad, India, April 9, 2021.
People stand in a queue to get tested for the coronavirus, in Ahmedabad, India, April 9, 2021.

India reported 10,732 new COVID-19 cases Sunday in the previous 24-hour period. It trails the U.S. and Brazil in the number of coronavirus infections at 13.3 million cases. The U.S. has 31.1 million infections, while Brazil had 13.4 million.

The unsanitary conditions of America’s prisons, jails and detention centers have become a breeding ground for the spread of the coronavirus. More than 2,700 inmates have died in the facilities since March 2020, while more than 525,000 of them have been infected, according to data compiled by The New York Times. “So, we’re basically just sitting back and biding our time until we get sick,” an inmate said in an email to the Times.

Several nations have issued new guidelines over the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after the European Union’s medical regulator announced a link between the vaccine and blood clots.

AstraZeneca is at odds with a number of European countries because the company has shipped fewer doses of the vaccine than indicated to the EU in an initial agreement.

Britain, where the vaccine was developed jointly by the British-Swedish drug maker and scientists at the University of Oxford, said it will offer alternatives for adults younger than 30. Oxford researchers have also suspended a clinical trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine involving young children and teenagers as British drug regulators conduct a safety review of the two-shot regimen.

Spain and the Philippines will limit the vaccine to people older than 60, Reuters reported, while The Washington Post reported Italy has issued similar guidelines.

The European Medicines Agency recently said blood clots should be listed as a very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but continued to emphasize that its overall benefits outweigh any risks.