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$324 million Covaxin deal row in Brazil explained

Brazilian politics is on the boil over a deal with Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech for the supply of two crore doses of Covaxin, a Covid-19 vaccine that was developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in India.

What has just happened?

Brazil has decided to suspend the Covaxin deal after allegations of corruption were levelled against its President Jair Bolsonaro.

– The national auditor in Brazil recommended suspension of the deal with Bharat Biotech in the face of a row over alleged irregularities in the purchase of Covaxin doses.

– The controversy is political in nature in Brazil, arising out of allegation of malfeasance in the commercial deal and not a reflection on the efficacy or safety of Covaxin as Covid-19 vaccine.

What Bharat Biotech said?

Bharat Biotech defended the deal saying the company followed a “step-by-step” process in securing a contract from Brazil. It said the company received regulatory approvals with Brazil for signing the deal.

– In a statement, Bharat Biotech said, “In the specific case of procurement of Covaxin by the Ministry of Health, Brazil, since the first meetings during Nov 2020 until June 29, a step-by-step approach has been followed towards contracts, and regulatory approvals, during this eight-month-long process.”

– It said, “EUA [emergency use authorisation] received on June 4. As of June 29, Bharat Biotech has not received any advance payments nor supplied any vaccines to MOH Brazil.”

– “Bharat Biotech has followed a similar approach towards contracts, regulatory approvals and supplies in several countries worldwide, where Covaxin is being supplied successfully.”

And, there is a backstory

The Covaxin deal ran into trouble earlier this month when a Brazilian health ministry official said there was pressure to sign a contract with Bharat Biotech at an elevated price.

Allegations reached the doorsteps of Bolsonaro, who was forced to issue a clarification. In his defence, Bolsonaro said no money was paid to Bharat Biotech and neither was a single dose of Covaxin was supplied to Brazil.

The federal auditor in Brazil began an investigation into the multimillion-dollar Covaxin deal.

– The issue gathered momentum when it became public that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer had offered a cheaper deal for its Covid-19 vaccine, the Bolsonaro government had not shown interest in negotiating a contract with the company.

Bolsonaro has been in controversy for quite some time in Brazil and is politically cornered in the country over his comments on coronavirus infection and management of Covid-19 pandemic.

Brazil has seen massive protests with agitators demanding impeachment of Bolsonaro.

The accusations of irregularities in the deal with Bharat Biotech just compounded the problems of Bolsonaro and gave a headache to the Indian vaccine-maker.

India Today

India Today is a weekly Indian English-language news magazine published by Living Media India Limited. It is the most widely circulated magazine in India, with a readership of close to 8 million. In 2014, India Today launched a new online opinion-orientated site called the DailyO.

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