World

Brazil surpasses U.S. in getting people fully vaccinated

“This anti-vaccine discourse doesn’t really stick with people here.”

Victor Moriyama/The New York Times


RIO DE JANEIRO — Once a pandemic hot spot, Brazil has edged past the United States in fully vaccinating its people against the coronavirus, with over 60% of the Brazilian population fully immunized.

The achievement contrasts with Brazil’s much derided handling of the pandemic under President Jair Bolsonaro, who refused to get vaccinated himself. It also reflects the extent of the public’s trust in a robust health care system with a track record of responding quickly to such crises.

Under a government that consistently dismissed the threat of the virus, Brazil faced a lack of coronavirus tests, masks, hospital beds and even oxygen. These shortages at times pushed its known daily death toll to be the highest in the world. Over 600,000 Brazilians are known to have died of COVID-19, a number eclipsed only by the United States.

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In the United States, 59% of the population is fully vaccinated. Early this year, as the campaign to vaccinate Americans began, millions were inoculated each day. But since mid-April, vaccinations have been lower in comparison, in part by political opposition or by fears over the safety of the doses available for use.

The vaccine rollout in Brazil has been much slower than in the United States, and critics of Bolsonaro say that was a consequence of the government’s resistance toward the vaccines.

“Some people say I’m giving a terrible example,” Bolsonaro said in July of opponents who admonished him for his refusal to get inoculated. “What if I turned into an alligator?”

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COVID-19 Vaccine

But his skepticism did not quell Brazilians’ enthusiasm toward the vaccines. As doses became available, social media was flooded with pictures of Brazilians getting shots in their arms with signs praising public health and criticizing the government. Many dressed as alligators for the occasion to mock the president.

Even Bolsonaro’s close relatives and allies gave in. “I took the vaccine in secret,” Luiz Eduardo Ramos, his former chief of staff, was recorded saying at a closed meeting. “Like any human being, I want to live, damn it.”

Daniel Soranz, who heads the public health department in Rio de Janeiro, said his city could have vaccinated its citizens three times faster if doses had arrived earlier. Its current vaccination rate, 70%, is higher than New York City’s.

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“People in Rio are fighting to get the vaccine,” he said. “This anti-vaccine discourse doesn’t really stick with people here.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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