Brazil's Fiocruz begins distributing 2 mln India-made AstraZeneca shots

SAO PAULO, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Brazil’s federally funded Fiocruz Institute said on Saturday it had begun distributing 2 million ready-to-use AstraZeneca PLC COVID-19 vaccines after they arrived in the country from India on Friday.

Brazil’s government has a deal with AstraZeneca to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine locally at Rio de Janeiro’s Fiocruz Institute, but delivery of the active ingredient needed to manufacture them has been plagued by delays from China.

As a result, AstraZeneca agreed to supply the government with 2 million ready-to-use doses made in India. After a major diplomatic effort, that included a letter from Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, those shots arrived on Friday.

Until now, Brazil’s widely criticized vaccine rollout has depended on a shot developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd vaccine in partnership with Sao Paulo’s Butantan Institute.

Bolsonaro had previously decried the Chinese shot as being useless, but his government is becoming increasingly reliant on it to tame the world’s second most deadly coronavirus outbreak after the United States.

The far-right former army captain is under growing pressure for his handling of the rollout, which has been plagued by delays and a lack of vaccines, just as a brutal second wave gathers steam.

Reporting by Paula Laier; editing by Diane Craft