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Bharat Biotech vaccines headed for Brazil as Covid surges in Latin America

Brazil signs agreement to buy Covaxin vaccines

The export of India-made vaccines to Latin America has picked up further momentum with Brazil, the world’s second worst hit country by the pandemic next to the US, signing an agreement to buy 20 million doses of the Covaxin Covid-19 vaccine made by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.

Brazil’s health ministry said in a statement that the first 8 million doses are expected to arrive in March.

Brazil, Mexico and Argentina are the three Latin American countries among the 30-odd nations worldwide that have now got India-made vaccines to launch their inoculation drives against the deadly pandemic while over 60 countries are still in the queue including Bolivia which also in South America.

Covid-19 surges

The vaccines will land in Brazil at a time when the daily death count due to Covid-19 surged to 1,541 on Thursday, the second highest toll since the pandemic began, taking total fatalities to 251,498. As many as 65,998 fresh cases of coronavirus were also recorded during the day.

Bad experience with China

Brazil had suffered a major setback in its vaccination drive as it had initially tied up for vaccines trials with China but then had to call off the move as Chinese companies were withholding data on the vaccines which were showing poor efficacy results. This had delayed the inoculation programme even as Covid-19 was surging in the country and the Latin American company had to place an emergency order for Indian vaccines.

Huge demand for Indian vaccines

There is a growing demand for Indian vaccines as the country has emerged as the “pharmacy of the world” amid the huge shortage that has developed for the shots worldwide.

Besides, Indian vaccines are much cheaper and easier to handle as they can be stored at ordinary refrigeration temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius. The western-made Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, on the other hand, have to be kept at -80 degrees Celsius and require expensive cold-chain infrastructure that does not exist in most countries.

While Brazil has already got shipments of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, it had also signed an agreement for the Bharat Biotech vaccine.  The Hyderabad-based company has supplied 5.5 million doses of its vaccine Covaxin, developed with the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research, to the inoculation campaign in India. The Indian government will be buying another 4.5 million doses for the ongoing domestic vaccination programme.

Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine has been peer-reviewed and the results from the company’s phase 1 human trial approved for safety and immunogenicity published in Britain’s reputed  medical journal The Lancet. The Phase-III human clinical trials of Covaxin began mid-November and are currently being carried out in about 26,000 volunteers across India.