Bolsonaro thanks China for fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine supplies

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime China skeptic, thanked Beijing on Monday for rapidly approving the export of active ingredients for local COVID-19 vaccine production, as his government scrambles to secure scarce shots.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

“They are already being sent to Brazil and will arrive in the next few days,’ he said in a Twitter post.

The supplies are enough to produce about 8.5 million doses of Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine at Sao Paulo’s Butantan biomedical center, the lab said.

China had also fast-tracked approval for supplies of active ingredients to make AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil, Bolsonaro tweeted.

Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who says he will not take any COVID-19 shot, has been criticized for the slow and patchy nature of Brazil’s vaccine rollout.

The setbacks to the national immunization plan are the latest example of his poor handling of the pandemic, critics say. Latin America’s largest nation has over 217,000 COVID-19 deaths, second in the world after the United States.

With few vaccines to inoculate Brazil’s 210 million people and a rampant second wave, the country now finds itself almost entirely reliant on the Sinovac vaccine that Bolsonaro, a China hawk, had previously ridiculed.

Butantan has a contract with Sinovac for 46 million doses. The first 6 million were ready for use and have been distributed around Brazil. The rest have to be completed by Butantan.

Brazil’s federally-funded Fiocruz Institute, which has a deal with AstraZeneca to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine, said on Monday it expects China to send the active ingredient needed to make the shots locally around Feb. 8.

It had previously said it could deliver finished doses in March, but now says it will await the Chinese shipment before giving a more specific time frame.

“It is not possible to disclose a detailed production schedule at this time,” Fiocruz said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Richard Pullin