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Brazil Coronavirus: No Vaccines, No Leadership, No End in Sight. How the nation became a global threat


“We’ve been here twice before but she failed to get the vaccine,” said Silva Santos. “She’s just standing in line and then the vaccines run out and we have to go.”

At the door, Silva Santos asked the guard if she could get her mother vaccinated. Very aware that CNN cameras were watching, he quickly ushered her inside.

About five minutes later the couple returned with bad news written all over their faces.

“I think it’s very bad,” said Silva Santos, clearly angry and frustrated. “Now we will have to find out again when they will have vaccines and you never know when.”

This frustration spilled over to the elderly crowd as person after person was denied a first dose of the vaccine, after the state of Rio de Janeiro suspended its vaccination campaign because it was in short supply. vaccines.

“It’s a disaster, a total disaster,” a woman told CNN after being denied her vaccine. “Who is to blame for all of this? I think our leaders, our politicians suck.”

The perfect growing storm

The Covid-19 crisis in Brazil has never been worse. Almost all Brazilian states have an intensive care unit occupancy rate of 80% or more, according to a CNN analysis of state data. As of Friday, 16 of the 26 states were at 90% or higher, meaning those health systems have collapsed or are at imminent risk of doing so.

The seven-day averages of new cases and new deaths are higher than ever before.

In the past 10 days, about a quarter of all coronavirus deaths worldwide have been recorded in Brazil, according to a CNN analysis.

“These are clear signs that we are in a very critical acceleration phase of the epidemic and it is unprecedented,” said Jesem Orellana, a Brazilian epidemiologist.

While vaccines are the ultimate way out of this global pandemic, Brazil still has a long way to go to get there.

As of Friday, less than 10 million people in the country of about 220 million had received at least one dose, according to federal health data. Only 1.57% of the population had been fully vaccinated.

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This is the result of a slow deployment program that has been marred by delays. When announcing its distribution plan in early February, the government promised that some 46 million doses of the vaccine would be available in March. He has been repeatedly forced to reduce that number, now estimating just 26 million by the end of the month.

Production in the country of what governments are saying will ultimately be hundreds of millions of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which has just started. The first 500,000 doses were delivered and celebrated by senior health ministry officials in Rio de Janeiro this week, despite a delay of several months.

“[There are] no vaccines in an amount that would really have an impact right now, ”said Natalia Pasternak, a Brazilian microbiologist, who said it will only be well into the second half of the year before enough vaccines are available to have a substantial impact on the epidemic.

If vaccines are to remain in short supply for the foreseeable future, the only remaining ways to control the exponential growth of the epidemic in Brazil are the methods the world has heard ad nauseam – social distancing, no crowds, limited movement and good hygiene. .

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But in many places in Brazil this just isn’t happening. In bustling Rio de Janeiro, it’s easy to find unmasked crowds walking the streets, conversing up close.

Although the city’s famous beaches are closed this weekend, restaurants and bars can still be open until 9 p.m., many of which will likely be filled to capacity.

Many states have imposed much tougher restrictions, including nighttime curfews, but local leaders are fighting federal leadership, or the lack of it, determined to keep things open.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a Covid-19 skeptic who mocked the effectiveness of vaccines and did not publicly take one himself, announced on Thursday that he would take legal action against some states before the country’s Supreme Court, saying the only person who can impose a curfew is him – something he promised never to do.

Although thousands of people die from the virus every day, he says the real threat comes from the economic damage that the restrictions caused by the virus can impose.

Millions of his supporters are following his lead, openly flaunting local regulations on social distancing and mask wearing.

All of this would be quite concerning on its own, but it is exacerbated by a deeply concerning reality – the spread of Covid-19 variants.

“ People don’t realize how much worse P.1 is ”

The P.1 variant was first discovered in Japan. Health officials have detected the viral mutation in several travelers returning from Amazonas state, an isolated region in northern Brazil teeming with rainforest.

CNN reported from the region in late January, where a brutal second wave of Covid-19 was decimating the city of Manaus.

Almost two months later, a growing body of research indicates that the P.1 variant is a crucial factor not only in the Manaus epidemic, but also in the national crisis that Brazil is going through today.

A study by Brazil’s largest medical research foundation, Fiocruz, in early March found that out of eight Brazilian states studied, variants of Covid-19, including P.1, were prevalent in at least 50% of new cases .

It is widely believed that the variant is more easily transmitted, up to 2.2 times according to a recent study. It’s more transmissible than the widely discussed B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, which is up to 1.7 times more transmissible, according to a December study.

This same study also found that people are 25% to 65% more likely to escape existing protective immunity against previous non-P.1 infections.

Finally, concerns remain that the different vaccines may not be as effective against the P.1 variant.

Although a recent UK study found that “existing vaccines may protect against the Brazilian variant of the coronavirus,” CNN has spoken to several epidemiologists who remain concerned.

“The world has not awakened the terrible potential reality that the P1 variant could represent,” said epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding. “People don’t realize how much worse P1 is.”

Brazil becomes a global danger

Amid Brazil’s unmitigated viral spread are two distinct additional threats.

First, the easier export of the existing P.1 variant abroad. It’s already in at least two dozen countries and counting and international travel to and from Brazil is still open for most countries.

Second, if the P.1 variant was created here, so can the others.

“The out-of-control pandemic in Brazil caused the variant,” said Pasternak, the Brazilian microbiologist. “And it’s going to cause more variants. It’s going to cause more mutations because that’s what happens when you let the virus replicate freely.”

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Under the laws of viral evolution, new variants are created to try and allow the virus to spread more easily. Along the way, more dangerous iterations can be created.

“More variants means there’s a greater likelihood that one of those variants could actually escape all vaccines, for example,” Pasternak said. “It’s rare, but it could happen.”

This, she says, makes Brazil a global danger, not only to its neighboring countries, but to others around the world.

“All of this together should sound the alarm in every country in the world that we must help Brazil contain P1, lest we all suffer the same fate from the collapse of the Brazilian hospital system,” said Dr Feigl-Ding.

With a lack of vaccines and a government unwilling to take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening, it’s unclear how things will soon improve in Brazil.

Journalist Eduardo Duwe contributed to this report.

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