Brazil says Chinese vaccine trial can resume after suspension

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil health regulator Anvisa on Wednesday allowed resumption of late-stage Brazilian clinical trials for China's Sinovac SVA.O COVID-19 vaccine, which had been suspended due to a study subject's death that was registered in Sao Paulo as a suicide.

FILE PHOTO: A man works in the packaging facility of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during a government-organized media tour in Beijing, China, September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Brazilian medical institute Butantan said in a statement it would restart trials later on Wednesday.

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime China critic who has baselessly dismissed the Sinovac vaccine as lacking in credibility, had hailed Monday’s suspension as a personal victory.

Bolsonaro reiterated, however, on Wednesday evening that his government would purchase whatever vaccine is approved by Anvisa and the Health Ministry, which could ultimately include the Sinovac vaccine, if approved.

The decision to suspend the trial - one of Sinovac’s three large late-stage studies - was criticized by the trial organizers, who said the move had taken them by surprise and that there had been no need to stop the study as the death had no relation to the vaccine.

The suspension further inflamed tensions between Bolsonaro and Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, who has pinned his political ambitions on the Chinese vaccine that he aims to roll out in his state as early as January, with or without federal assistance.

Anvisa, in its statement on Wednesday, said the initial information it received about the case, which led to the suspension, had been incomplete and lacked the cause of the “severe adverse event.” It has strongly dismissed suggestions the decision could have been politically motivated.

“After evaluating the new data presented by the sponsor ... Anvisa understands that it has sufficient reasons to allow the resumption of vaccination,” the agency said.

“It is important to clarify that a suspension does not necessarily mean that the product under investigation does not offer quality, safety or efficacy,” Anvisa added.

Sinovac, in a statement said: “We are confident in the safety of the vaccine, fully understand and appreciate Anvisa’s strict supervision and timely resumption of the clinical studies.”

Brazil has one of the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, with over 5.7 million confirmed cases and 163,000 deaths related to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Bolsonaro has come under fire for his constant dismissal of the virus and its dangers.

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro said Brazilians “must stop being sissies” about the virus, adding: “We are all going to die one day.”

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo, Ricardo Brito in Brasilia and Roxanne Liu in Beijing; Writing by Anthony Boadle and Jamie McGeever; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney