Brazil is a bad student in the fight against the coronavirus, but it is paradoxically at the forefront of vaccines, with large-scale tests and the production of millions of doses in sight.
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Unlike Europe or China, the virus is still growing there, ideal conditions for testing the effectiveness of a vaccine, in the second most affected country in the world, after the United States.
The world’s leading producer of yellow fever vaccines, Brazil is also recognized for its expertise in vaccines, which it produces on a large scale in leading public institutes.
This is why the heads of two of the most advanced projects, that of the University of Oxford, with the AstraZeneca laboratory, and that of the Chinese Sinovac, will carry out phase 3 tests with several thousand Brazilian volunteers. last before homologation. Only three projects worldwide have reached this phase.
And Brazil does not lose out, with technology transfer agreements which will allow it, if the tests prove conclusive, to produce these vaccines itself to quickly immunize its population, and even export doses to its neighbors.
With loosely-held confinement applied chaotically by region, this country of 212 million people with continental dimensions has failed to stem the pandemic, which is spreading inland.
100 million doses
“Brazil is a fertile ground for testing because the virus is still very present, with a wide variety of epidemiological characteristics” according to regions, explains AFP Margareth Dalcomo, researcher from Fiocruz, a public reference body which will produce the vaccine developed by Oxford.
“The more volunteers are exposed to the virus, the more likely it is to quickly prove the effectiveness of the vaccine,” says Sue Ann Costa Clemens, researcher at Unifesp, the university responsible for conducting tests on this project with 5,000 Brazilian volunteers. .
“If we manage to recruit these volunteers while the curve remains rising, we hope to obtain the result quickly, from November,” added this specialist, who is also director of the Institute of World Health at the University of Siena, in Italy .
Phase 3 testing of the vaccine began last month in Brazil, but also in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
“If the tests are successful, it could be approved in the United Kingdom by the end of the year and in other countries, including Brazil, in early 2021,” predicts Clemens, stressing that approval in Brazil should be easier and faster thanks to tests carried out on site.
Under the agreement with Oxford and AstraZeneca, the Brazilian federal government must invest $ 127 million to enable Fiocruz to acquire the technology and equipment necessary to produce an initial quantity of 30.4 million doses during the experimentation phase.
If the vaccine passes clinical trials, Brazil will have the right to produce an additional 70 million doses at an estimated cost of $ 2.3.
At the same time, the Sao Paulo state government is scheduled to begin testing Chinese Sinovac vaccine on 9,000 volunteers on July 20.
The partnership also plans to transfer technology for “large-scale production” in the event of conclusive tests, but the number of doses planned has not yet been announced.
“It’s a technology we’ve mastered, we’ve already made other vaccines in a similar fashion,” said Dimas Covas, director of the Butantan Institute, responsible for producing the doses.
“We will have the autonomy to meet demand from Brazil, but also from other Latin American countries,” he said.
With these two far-reaching tests on its territory, “Brazil holds the hopes of a good part of the world” to find a vaccine, insists Dimas Covas.
But the announcement three weeks ago of the partnership with Sinovac has drawn criticism, with dubious conspiracy theories, amid political rivalry between Joao Doria, governor of Sao Paulo, and corona-skeptical president Jair Bolsonaro.
“A Chinese laboratory that makes a vaccine against a Chinese virus and research funded by a governor who is a great partner of China. I don’t want this vaccine, do you? “, Tweeted Roberto Jefferson, a former MP recently joined camp Bolsonaro, recently.