It’s not normal for a president of the United States to make plans with the president of an allied country that is likely to get tens of thousands of people in that country killed. But we’re not talking about ordinary presidents, we’re talking about Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.
The goal of the Trump-Bolsonaro plot was to keep Brazil from getting access to a vaccine developed in China. China is apparently somewhat ahead of the United States in developing an effective vaccine. While the pharmaceutical companies in the United States have approached a vaccine by developing a new RNA method, the leading Chinese companies have pursued an old-fashioned dead virus approach.
This allowed these companies to move more quickly with their testing and get to the final Phase 3 stage of clinical trials before the U.S. companies. They also went the route of picking countries with high infection rates, like Brazil, to conduct their trials. A high infection rate makes it easier to determine how effective a vaccine is in preventing infections.
Now that Sinovac, one of the leading Chinese companies, is concluding its trials, it is negotiating large sales of the vaccine to Brazil. Joao Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo, had negotiated a major purchase for the people in his state. Bolsonaro has sought to nix the deal.
According to a press account, Bolsonaro made this decision after meeting with Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. Trump apparently would consider it a setback in his contest with China for global stature if Brazil were to adopt a vaccine developed by a Chinese company.
Brazil ranks second to the United States in total deaths from the pandemic and is seeing close to 400 deaths a day. This means a delay in getting a vaccine of even a month can mean over 10,000 additional deaths. If the delay is longer, as seems likely, the number of needless deaths would increase accordingly.
Bolsonaro’s claim is that he doesn’t want his country to be “anyone’s guinea pig.” But this is hardly the issue. Large-scale purchases of the Sinovac vaccine would come only after Brazil’s regulatory authority had determined that the vaccine was safe and effective. Bolsonaro’s move was purely an effort to satisfy his friend Donald Trump. He apparently has no more respect for the lives of the people in Brazil than Trump does for people in the United States.