By Marcelo Rochabrun
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil announced on Saturday that it had signed a $127 million agreement to start producing locally an experimental vaccine developed by AstraZeneca that has shown promise to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is considered the world’s leading candidate and most advanced in terms of development to obtain licensure and become an official vaccine against the disease, according to the World Health Organization.
The British drugmaker is already carrying out large-scale, mid-stage human trials of the vaccine, which was developed by researchers at Oxford University.
Elcio Franco, Brazil’s No.2 public health official, said in a press conference that the country will initially produce some 30 million doses of the vaccine, half by December and half by January of next year.
Franco said Brazil is paying for the vaccine but is aware of the risk, in case the vaccine does not pass all necessary licensure requirements or another vaccine obtains approval faster.
The vaccine will be produced by Brazil’s Fundação Osvaldo Cruz, also known as Fiocruz, the country’s leading public health organization, Franco said.
Brazil is the world’s second most affected country by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 1.2 million confirmed cases as of Friday and more than 55,000 deaths.
Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for this response to the pandemic. He has dismissed the severity of the disease and has shown indifference to the rising death toll while also pushing treatment using an unproven anti-malaria drug.
(Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; editing by Diane Craft)