Brazil aims to vaccinate entire population against COVID-19 in 2021

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SAO PAULO, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Amid a worsening second wave of coronavirus infections and mounting domestic pressure, Brazil's Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello pledged on Thursday to vaccinate the country's entire population against COVID-19 in 2021.

The bold statement comes amid criticism from state governors that Brazil's federal government is unprepared for a mass immunization campaign and had failed to secure a diverse enough supply of vaccines.

In a radio interview, Pazuello repeated the ministry would buy any effective vaccines that are approved by health regulator Anvisa and reasonably priced.

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Brazil has the world's second-deadliest outbreak of the novel coronavirus after the United States, with more than 178,000 deaths.

The continent-sized country, with a population of 212 million, has registered 6.7 million confirmed cases.

Although Brazil has an enviable record for national vaccination campaigns and a public health system well set up for the challenge, President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly denied the gravity of the virus and is a vaccine skeptic. He has said he will not take a COVID-19 shot.

In the last few days, the government has given multiple different timeframes for when vaccinations could begin. Originally slated for March, Pazuello then said the campaign could begin in January or February. Later, he said some vaccinations could even be administered later this month.

The federal government is under pressure from the governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous and wealthiest state. Governor Joao Doria has secured his state's own access to the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac (SVA.O) and has vowed to begin inoculations by Jan. 25, with or without federal government help.

Meanwhile, the federal government has signed a letter of intent to buy 70 million doses from Pfizer (PFE.N) as well as around 100 million doses from AstraZeneca (AZN.L). All still require approval by Brazil's regulator.

In total, the government said it has lined up 300 million doses via agreements with several manufacturers.

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Reporting by Eduardo Simões and Ana Mano Editing by Brad Haynes

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