Brazilians line up outside Catete Palace in Rio de Janeiro last month to receive China’s CoronaVac vaccine. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO — The news received scant notice in the mainstream media, but it quickly gained a foothold in Brazil’s vast right-wing digital landscape: The vaccine on which Brazil had gone all in was a disappointment even to the country that had created it.
“CoronaVac has a low efficacy rate, admits Chinese authority,” crowed one right-wing site.
“The majority of vaccines in Brazil are CoronaVac,” pointed out another.
A top Chinese health official had said the country was considering changes to its vaccines to “solve the problem that the efficacy … is not high.” And in Brazil, in alternative media, a narrative formed: The country was stuck with a second-tier vaccine.
“I always said this vaccine was water with sugar,” one Brazilian commented beneath a story in conservative media.
“We have to be very careful how we communicate science during the pandemic,” said Natália Pasternak, a prominent Brazilian microbiologist. “People already look at this vaccine like ‘second best.’ So this kind of message can have a real impact on vaccine coverage.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Brazil is losing around 3,000 people every day to the coronavirus. New variants are storming the country. Attempts to contain the spread have been undone by political divisions, governmental ineptitude, poverty and apathy.
The vaccine has been widely seen as the only way out. But Brazil’s margin of error has been made yet slimmer by the vaccine itself. The efficacy rate of CoronaVac, which accounts for the vast majority of doses administered so far, is barely more than 50 percent. That’s far lower than those being used in the developed world.
“This vaccine of 50 percent, is it good?” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaroasked when the results were announced earlier this year. Brazilian officials have said the vaccine is 78 percent effective in protecting against moderate and severe covid-19 cases, but 50.4 percent against all cases.
Bolsonaro has been skeptical of all vaccines; he mused at one point that they might turn recipients into crocodiles. But he has directed particular scorn at CoronaVac, which is supported by his bitter political foe, João Doria, the governor of São Paulo state. When trials in Brazil were temporarily suspended after the unrelated death of one of the volunteers, the president celebrated: “One more win for Jair Bolsonaro.” […]
Read More: Brazil battles coronavirus with a Chinese vaccine even the Chinese concede could be better
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