Brazil’s government approved a pair of vaccines Sunday as the country struggles to contain the coronavirus.
Both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Chinese Sinovac vaccine were approved as healthcare workers begin to receive the first shots in Latin America’s most populous country.
Brazil is still waiting on a shipment containing 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that has been rolled out in other countries, like the United States. Meanwhile, the government says it has 6 million doses of the controversial Sinovac vaccine, as a Brazilian clinical trial concluded recently that the Chinese vaccine had just a 50 percent efficacy rate.
As of now, Chile is the only other country in the region that has plans to buy doses of the Sinovac vaccine.
The green light for these two vaccines comes as some Brazilian hospitals have run out of oxygen for their patients. Medical centers in the Amazonian city of Manaus have reported oxygen shortages that were expected to lead to countless deaths. The government responded by having its air force send oxygen tanks and medical supplies to the city, while hospital staff were also forced to send some patients to hospitals in other cities throughout the country.
Brazil has more than 209,000 people die from the virus, trailing only the U.S. in number of deaths.
Twenty-two percent of Brazilians have said they will not take the vaccine. The skepticism around a vaccine is not helped by President Jair Bolsonaro publicly insisting that he will not receive a vaccine shot.
Bolsonaro’s response to the pandemic has ranged from flat out denial to indifference, as he’s opposed lockdowns and shifted much of the responsibility to state governors.
Critics have also blamed the president for Brazil lagging behind on its vaccine approval, as Bolsonaro’s administration has consistently sparred with Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, an advocate of the Sinovac vaccine.
On Saturday, the Brazilian health regulation board Anvisa rejected an application for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine just a day before it approved the other two vaccines.
The first vaccine shot was given to 54-year-old nurse Monica Calazans, as Doria was in attendance. Bolsonaro’s administration called the event a “marketing ploy,” but said the federal vaccine plan would begin giving shots on Wednesday throughout the country.
Michael has been a reporter covering Latin America since 2014. He has lived and worked in Costa Rica, Colombia and Mexico. His work from the region has appeared in The Guardian, The Associated Press and Vice.