One year after starting its vaccination drive against COVID-19, Brazil nears the threshold of 70 percent of its population having taken the two doses, whereas 15 percent have received the booster shot, and approximately 75 percent have had at least the first dose, according to Oswaldo Cruz Foundation’s (Fiocruz) Monitora COVID-19 dashboard. The campaign, spearheaded by the country’s National Immunization Program (PNI), had reached 68 percent of Brazilians with both doses last Friday (Jan. 14). Now, it takes its first step towards the protection of children aged five through 11.

The vaccination against the disease had its first dose administered on January 17, 2021, in nurse Mônica Calazans, in São Paulo. The health agent received the CoronaVac shot, produced at the Butantan Institute in collaboration with Chinese company Sinovac. Since then, three of every four Brazilian have received at least the first dose of one of the four vaccines acquired under the National Immunization Plan: AstraZeneca, CoronaVac, Janssen, and Pfizer.

Scientists from Fiocruz and the Brazilian Immunization Society heard by Agência Brasil say that the vaccination led to a sharp plunge in mortality and hospitalizations caused by the pandemic, despite the more transmissible mutations of the coronavirus, like the Delta and the Omicron.

Vaccination worldwide

The percentage of people vaccinated with the second dose in Brazil places the country above most South American neighbors, according to platform Our World in Data, linked to Oxford University. Nonetheless, Chile (86%), Uruguay (76%), Argentina (73%), and Ecuador (72%) had larger coverage in the continent.

Considering the two-dose coverage in world’s 30 most populous countries, Brazil ranks ninth on the list, which is headed by South Korea (84.5%), followed by China (84.2%) and Japan (78.9%). Brazil comes after Vietnam (69.7%). The countries where the population had the least access to vaccines were Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where levels failed to reach ten percent.

Dr. Mônica Levi, director at the Brazilian Immunization Society, describes the percentage of vaccinated people in Brazil as high compared to countries that have to cope with stronger anti-vax movements, like the US (62%) and Israel (64%). “They can’t make progress, because there are those who strongly resist vaccination. It’s a lot easier here in Brazil. We’re in a better situation. Some countries are faring better than we are, but resistance to vaccination here isn’t so big—but it could increase,” she said, adding she is concerned about the hesitation in vaccinating children. “It makes us in the medical field sad to see that political issues are impacting parents’ decisions about the health of their own children, and that there are parents more worried about following political advice than scientific principles and the conclusions drawn by those qualified to make medical decisions.”

Adverse events

Dr. Levi pointed out that the public have been bombarded with confusing information overstating predictable adverse effects and disregarding the benefits that vaccines have brought about since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re not denying the existence of severe adverse effects. They’re real, but they’re extremely rare. We must take into account the lives saved and the benefits provided by vaccination compared to the risk, which is considerably lower.”

Maurício Barreto, epidemiologist at Fiocruz in Bahia state, agrees, and says that the vaccines against COVID-19 used in Brazil are being administered in a large number of other countries, which brings the inoculations under scrutiny by regulators and researchers for both performance and safety.

“Shots add up to billions worldwide. These are not just shots administered in Brazil, but across the world. We’re fairly certain about the adverse effects, but they come in such minimal proportion that benefits far outweigh them. In this respect, regulating agencies agree—be them in Brazil, the US, Europe, Japan, Australia. Thousands of institutions are monitoring the effects of these vaccines, so we’re confident we have safe vaccines.”

To make strides in Brazil’s vaccination campaign, Barreto believes we must understand why some people have failed to complete their vaccine cycle, identifying where and how issues could have made it more difficult for them to go back to vaccination centers. The goal, he underscored, must be to make it as easy as possible for people to find such health stations.

For other inoculations with more than one dose, Dr. Levi recalls, coverage often sees a significant decline in the second and third shots. “We see it for Hepatitis B, for instance, which also has three doses. This is normal behavior we’ve seen before—the trouble of making a vaccine with several doses and have people follow through,” she said, adding that it is still hard to say whether COVID-19 inoculation will end with the booster dose. “In the future, we’ll probably have new variants that will force us to create different vaccines, or maybe immunity will drop sometime after the booster dose—only time will tell.”

Source: Agência Brasil