A succession of political marketing mistakes by the governor of São Paulo, João Doria (from the PSDB, Brazilian Social Democracy Party), who is betting on the vaccine against covid-19 as a springboard for his ambition to run for the presidency of Brazil, has been fueling the discredit around the Coronavac, developed by the State Institute Butantan in collaboration with the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac, and helping to encourage anti-vaccine movements in Brazil, as claimed by some renowned scientists with no ties to regional management.
The vaccine has a global efficacy of 50.38%, it was known this Tuesday. It is considered a good number, within the limits accepted by the scientific community, by the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) and by the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, the Government of São Paulo had bet last week to disclose only partial results and, in principle, more positive. The authorities announced last Thursday that immunization was 78% effective in preventing severe, moderate or mild cases of COVID-19, and 100% for severe or moderate cases.
The numbers were presented at a press conference attended by the governor, but the numbers for very mild cases of the disease were ignored. Considering also these cases, a general efficiency of 50.38% is reached.
This means that, of a group of 4,599 volunteers who were given a placebo in the trials, 3.6% contracted COVID-19. And, among the 4,653 volunteers who received the vaccine, the percentage was 1.8%. That is to say,
For this data to come to light this Tuesday, it was necessary to pressure the regional government to make the complete data of the study available. But this time Doria did not attend the press conference. “It was extremely damaging that attempt to make the result look more favorable, to advertise an efficiency of 78%, which is not the real efficiency.
This generates insecurity and many doubts among the population ”, explains the medical epidemiologist Denise Garrett to EL PAÍS. With that, the risk is that the most important thing goes unnoticed: “We have a 50% effective vaccine, which is going to be used and is going to help. That’s what we should focus on. ”
Natalia Pasternak, doctor in microbiology and president of the Questão de Ciência Institute, participated in the press conference on Tuesday and summarized the issue as follows: “We have a good vaccine. It is not the best vaccine in the world, it is not an ideal vaccine, it is a good vaccine whose efficacy is within the limits of what is acceptable, “explained the researcher.
And he stressed that vaccination is not the end of the pandemic, but the beginning of the end. “I want that vaccine, I want my parents to give it to them, it is a possible vaccine for Brazil, compatible for our local production.
A vaccine is only as good as its ability to vaccinate ”. A December Datafolha poll found that half the population reject Coronavac, which they pejoratively call “Chinese vaccine.”
This discredit has been encouraged even by the president, Jair Bolsonaro, who boycotts the measures to fight the pandemic and denies its seriousness. Bolsonaro also assures that vaccination will not be mandatory and that all vaccines are “experimental” and, therefore, risky.
This Tuesday, after the announcement in São Paulo, a large part of the Bolsonarista troop, including the president’s children, took to social networks to criticize Doria and draw conclusions about the inoculate.
The Federal Government has been committed from the beginning to the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine, which will be produced in Brazil by Fiocruz, but it has also had to give in to pressure and has announced that it will buy Coronavac to distribute it in the national vaccination campaign of the that will be in charge of the gigantic Brazilian public health system, SUS.
With the figures presented this week, the scientific community predicts that almost 100% of the population will have to be vaccinated with Coronavacso that group immunity is achieved. The challenge now will be to make mass and effective communication to circumvent the anti-vaccine groups.
“Those speeches affect a lot. One realizes when listening to an older man that, in theory, he is not passionate about politics or is present on social networks, saying that he is not going to get the vaccine from China ”, explained Carlos Lula, president of the Council National Secretary of Health (CONASS), in an interview with EL PAÍS.
“That is very, very disturbing. When this level of debate is reached it is because it is already in the social imagination. Our job in vaccination is to deconstruct the social imaginary that what comes from China is bad. ”
The strategy of the Government of São Paulo had already been criticized even before last week due to a series of corrections when it came to releasing the data.
Doria’s administration even announced that on December 12 they would present the preliminary data, but then they backtracked saying that they would present the consolidated data to request the definitive registration – and no longer the authorization for emergency use from Anvisa.
The following days, however, they backed off and said they would request the two authorizations, with the aim of starting the vaccination on January 25.
In this way, the date of presentation of the data passed to December 23. That day, the president of the Butantan Institute, Dimas Covas, limited himself to saying that the trials showed that Coronavac had reached “the threshold of efficacy” demanded by both Anvisa and the WHO, but again he postponed the presentation of the specific data . Nor was Governor Doria, who had traveled to Miami and did not participate in the press conference.
It wasn’t until the press conference on January 7, last Thursday, that the data was finally presented. And yet, incompletely, frustrating the expectation of the scientific community in Brazil.
For its part, the Astrazeneca / Oxford vaccine has an average efficacy of 70%. According to the pharmacist, immunization reached a minimum effectiveness of 62%, but it can reach an effectiveness of 90%.
The data analysis was carried out in a combined way, from the phase 3 trials carried out in different countries, which has also generated criticism from the scientific community.