Brazil clears use of full vaccine stock as first doses

Brazil said Sunday it was lifting its requirement for local authorities to reserve half their coronavirus vaccine stockpiles for second doses, seeking to accelerate its lagging immunization campaign and curb a deadly COVID-19 surge.

Health workers care for patients infected with COVID-19 at the full emergency room of the Nossa Senhora da Conceiao hospital in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul State, in southern Brazil, on March 11, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.(Photo by SILVIO AVILA / AFP/ FILE)

Outgoing health minister Eduardo Pazuello said the goal of the policy switch was to get at least one vaccine dose to the maximum number of people as fast as possible.

Brazil, which has the second-highest death toll in the pandemic, is so far using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Chinese-developed CoronaVac, both of which require two doses.

"By freeing the full stockpile of vaccines for immediate use, we will be able to double the number of doses applied this week, saving and protecting more lives," Pazuello said in a statement.

The ministry said it had received guarantees from suppliers that enough vaccines would arrive to ensure all recipients receive their second dose on schedule.

There has been international debate over whether it is better to administer as many first doses as possible or reserve some supply for second doses.

Countries such as Britain have shown promising results adopting the first strategy.

Brazil has issued at least one dose to around 5.5 percent of the population so far -- way off pace to meet the health ministry's goal of vaccinating the entire adult population by the end of the year.

In a boost to the immunization campaign, Brazil received its first shipment Sunday of vaccines secured through the United Nations Covax program for low- and middle-income countries.

Just over one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were shipped to Sao Paulo, officials said. The health ministry said another 1.9 million doses were expected by the end of the month under the program.

In a setback, however, public health institute Fiocruz, which is partnering with AstraZeneca to distribute and eventually produce the vaccine in Brazil, confirmed that eight million doses it was expecting from India had been delayed.

It said the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm's Indian partner, the Serum Institute, had not indicated when it would be able to supply them.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro faces mounting pressure to accelerate the vaccination drive and get a handle on the pandemic, which has claimed 294,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.