Brazilians protest mandatory COVID-19 immunization, Chinese vaccine

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – More than 300 Brazilians gathered on São Paulo’s main commercial thoroughfare on Sunday to protest state Governor João Doria’s support for mandatory COVID-19 immunization and testing the potential vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac SVA.O.

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Doria has previously spoken in favor of making immunizations mandatory, once vaccines are available, sparking a spat with President Jair Bolsonaro who vows it will be voluntary. The Supreme Court’s chief justice has said the court will ultimately decide on the issue.

A number of vaccines are obligatory in Brazil, including for example Hepatitis B which is given to newborns. Brazil has had great success with large vaccination campaigns in the past, eradicating polio in the 1980s for example.

In São Paulo, the Sinovac vaccine is being tested as part of phase III clinical trials with support from the Doria government.

Brazil’s federal health ministry announced last month it would buy 46 million doses of the vaccine, contingent on regulatory approval, in a deal supported by state governors. But a day later right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro said that Brazil would not buy the vaccine.

Bolsonaro has bashed China intermittently since the campaign trail in 2018, over the Asian countries growing investments and influence in Brazil.

The protestors in São Paulo rallied in support of Bolsonaro, with one demonstrator holding a sign saying “We are not guinea pigs” and another in a mask that said “no vaccine.” Many of the tightly packed protestors did not wear masks.

“We’re against the authoritarian Chinese ambassador João Doria, who would now make the vaccine compulsory against our wishes,” protestor Andre Petros said.

“This doesn’t happen anywhere in the world, not even in China.”

Brazil has the third-worst outbreak of coronavirus globally, with 5.5 million cases, after the United States and India, according to a Reuters tally.

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