A senior health official at Brazil’s leading public biomedical institute warned that the country may not be able to conduct mass vaccinations until March, Reuters reported Monday.
Marco Krieger, the vice president of health production and innovation at the Fiocruz institute, told Reuters that a mass vaccination effort will depend on the AstraZeneca vaccine that Brazil made a $371.6 million deal to produce in June.
The mass vaccination effort will come months after the U.S. and U.K. began giving the first doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine this month. Some Brazilians criticize the government for not investing in enough vaccine candidates.
“It’s not a 100 meter sprint,” Krieger told Reuters. “We at Fiocruz are prepared for a marathon.”
The institute is expected to distribute 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine within the first half of 2021 and another 110 million doses in the second half, pending timely approval from the state health regulator.
The AstraZeneca vaccine was expected to be finished first, but the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine surpassed it.
Still, Krieger told Reuters that he thinks the AstraZeneca vaccine is the best bet for the country, although it will take longer to reach herd immunity. He said he expects 30 to 40 percent of the population to be vaccinated by the middle of 2021.
“Only in the second half of next year will we have a level of vaccination cover sufficient to significantly reduce the circulation of the virus,” he said.
“We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel,” he added, according to Reuters.
Brazil has taken steps to obtain the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine, including signing a letter of intent for more than 70 million doses, but only 2 million of those would be delivered before the end of March, per the government’s plan.
Brazil has recorded the second highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, with 181,402 deaths, behind only the U.S., which surpassed 300,000 fatalities on Monday. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Brazil has confirmed more than 6.9 million COVID-19 cases — the third most of any country, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.