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Jair Bolsonaro scrapped discounted Pfizer vaccine deal for a much more expensive Covaxin. Why?

Image Credit: AFP

The controversial Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dubbed the ‘tropical Donald Trump’, for his similarities to ex-US President Donald Trump, has been under scrutiny for scrapping a heavily discounted Pfizer vaccine deal earlier on during the pandemic for the Covaxin vaccine contract, which costed the Brazilian government much more than the Pfizer vaccine deal would have. The Covaxin costed $320 million (R$1.6 billion) for 20 million doses.

The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro alleged corruption in the buying of the COVID-19 did not just cost the Brazilian government more money, but also more lives. It took much longer to establish the Covaxin vaccine contract at the cost of thousands of lives being lost every day, despite the Pfizer vaccine deal was on the table for him to accept and act fast. The Bharat vaccine deal was signed back in February, and despite the vaccine had not cleared regulatory hurdles, the Brazilian government paid $15 per dose for it, when the Pfizer offered their vaccine last year for $10 (half the price they usually charge) for 70 million doses. According to newspaper Estado de Sao Paulo, the vaccine’s manufacturer, Bharat Biotech, initially asked a price of $1.34 a dose, but than Brazil offered to pay $15 per dose, much more than any vaccine it purchased.

On June 25, 2021 a lower house representative, Luis Miranda spoke at a congressional committee probing Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He said that he held a meeting with the President back in March where he highlighted to him a series of irregularities in the purchase of the Covaxin vaccine, produced by India’s Bharat Biotech International Ltd.

The Bharat contract also drew scrutiny from the Brazilian Senate inquiry which ordered the head of Precisa Medicamentos, Bharat’s intermediary in Brasilia for their testimony on Wednesday June 23rd. Prosecutors flagged a document which dates back to June 16, where  Precisa’s partners include Global Saude, a company known to not deliver their medicine to the Health Ministry and are currently under investigation by police.

The history of irregularities involving partners at Precisa and the elevated price paid for the doses under contract … require deep investigation in both civil and criminal aspects

Prosecutor-general’s office

Opposition Senator Randolfe Rodrigues filed a criminal complaint against the Brazilian President ‘on account of the serious allegations’ and since he ‘did not take any action after being notified of the existence of a giant corruption scheme in the Health Ministry.’ It will be seen if the supreme court will take action.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a known COVID-19 skeptic, dismissed coronavirus as a ‘little flu’, despite the overwhelming pressure on hospitals across Brazil due to the high number of cases every day. So far, Brazil recorded 18,448,402 cases and 514,202 deaths. He still thinks that these people died because of a little flu and despite his decreasing support he kept insisting he didn’t do anything wrong in the vaccine deal. He is seeking reelection next year and displayed his strong support by joining a maskless motorcade with thousands of motorcycles in Sao Paolo. The President was fined $100 for his participation in the maskless event. The Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that ‘Only God can remove me from the Presidential chair’.

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