The Ministry of Health announced this Saturday that it has reached an agreement with the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca that will allow it to have 100 million doses of the vaccine in development and that, thanks to the transfer of technology, enables it to produce it in the country with autonomy.
Brazil, the second country most affected in the world by the coronavirus pandemic, is committed to a long-term and risky solution with the agreement announced this Saturday that will allow it to produce the vaccine against covid-19 that has been undergoing testing by the Oxford University.
The agreement commits Brazil to a disbursement of $ 288 million for the 100 million doses and the technology transfer of a vaccine that, although promising, is still in its third phase of clinical trials (with humans).
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“Our association consists of a technological commission. And in a technological commission there is a risk,” Arnaldo Correia de Medeiros, secretary of Health Surveillance of the Ministry of Health, said at a press conference.
The ministry acknowledges that this is a risky investment because it will go on to participate in the development of a vaccine whose efficacy and safety have not been proven and which, at best, will only be able to start producing in December.
In a first phase of the agreement, Brazil will pay $ 127 million for 30.4 million doses of the vaccine that it will receive in two batches, one in December 2020 and the other until January 15, 2021.
“Preliminary studies show that the vaccine has a fairly significant immune response capacity, but in case clinical trials do not show that it will be safe for the Brazilian population, obviously we will not use it. In that case we will have acquired knowledge, and we will have an advance technology and improvements in our industrial park, “he added.
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The country will initially import all the raw material produced by AstraZeneca laboratories abroad and will produce the vaccines at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), the largest medical research center in Latin America.
The ministry will pay $ 161 million for the rights to produce 70 million doses of a vaccine that will have a production cost of $ 2.30 per unit. “Our goal is to offer the vaccine at its cost price, without any profit, and we want to offer it to as many countries as possible. We started with Brazil because it is an important country and because we are concerned with what is happening here,” said Jorge Mazzei , executive director of AstraZeneca in Brazil.
In a second stage, and in case the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is proven, Fiocruz will be able to start producing the active ingredient in the country, making it completely autonomous in the manufacture of the medicine.
In the past week, the country recorded a daily average of about 1,000 deaths daily, the highest average in the world. Those figures confirm the South American giant as the second country most affected by the disease, behind only the United States, and as one of the new global epicenters of the pandemic.
Highest daily average death toll in the world
The agreement was announced at a time when Brazil accumulates 56,197 deaths and 1,284,214 confirmed cases of the disease, according to data from a media consortium that compiles statistics directly from regional health secretariats.
Rio de Janeiro, for example, anticipated this Saturday the opening of shops on the street, while Sao Paulo announced that bars and restaurants may open on June 6.
The agreement was also announced at a time when the vast majority of Brazilian regional and municipal governments accelerate their de-escalation processes despite the fact that the pandemic has not reached its peak of contagion in the country and the fear of specialists that the situation is aggravate.
Social distancing measures have been imposed by regional governments because the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, is one of the most skeptical rulers about the severity of the pandemic and defends the immediate normalization of all activities.
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According to scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO), the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which is already being tested in humans, even in Brazil, is the most advanced in the world in terms of development.
Just as the government is now betting on a vaccine whose efficacy has not been proven, Bolsonaro has already opted for chloroquine, an antimalarial medicine that is still being tested to treat patients with covid-19 but whose efficacy remains unproven.
Franco assured that, if the tests are successful, the first batches of the vaccine will be offered to the population at risk, mainly the elderly, patients with other diseases and professionals in the health area, and sent to the regions that are currently facing greater contagion rate.
Government asks to meet the schedule
Brazilian Deputy Minister of Health, Elcio Franco, admitted that, in addition to depending on demonstrating the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, the project also depends on compliance with the schedule of those responsible, which initially foresees the end of the experiments in November and the start of production in December.
“With the transfer of technology we will have autonomy for production and we will eliminate the exorbitant profit margins that we have seen during the pandemic with medical products,” he said.