Beleaguered Bolsonaro administration suspends Covaxin contract

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (Image credit: Deccan Herald)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (Image credit: Deccan Herald)

Brazil early on Wednesday suspended a $324 million contract with Bharat Biotech International Limited’s Covaxin after allegations of irregularities against President Jair Bolsonaro.

As per the contract the Hyderabad-based firm was to supply two crore doses of corona virus vaccine shot to Brazil, which has so far lost five lakh people to the pandemic, the second highest fatality after the United States.

Though the whistle-blowers went public against the accusation of irregularities both President Bolsonaro and the Indian firm denied any wrongdoing in the deal.

The suspension follows a recommendation by the Comptroller General of the Union (CGU).

“According to CGU’s preliminary analysis, there are no irregularities in the contract, but, due to compliance, the @minsaude (Brazil’s health ministry) opted to suspend the contract for further analysis,” Brazil health minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Wednesday.

It needs to be mentioned that the contract between Bharat Biotech and Brazil’s Precisa Medicamentos has been at the centre of a political storm following a report by the parliamentary commission of inquiry on the Bolsonaro administration’s handling of the pandemic.

It was alleged that the price, at $15 per dose, is the highest for any vaccine, including those developed by Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc, Brazil has paid for so far.

CNN Brazil reported on June 24 that members of the parliamentary panel said the agreed upon price was around 1,000% higher than what was initially quoted by the firm. Email exchanges between Bharat Biotech and the ministry showed an initial quoted price of $1.34 per dose, which later rose to $15 per dose after the contract was negotiated. 

However, in a statement on Wednesday, Bharat Biotech said it had committed no wrong in the supply contract for the COVID vaccine, including the pricing, which was set at $15-20 for export markets.

“The pricing of Covaxin has been clearly established at $15-20 per dose for supplies to governments outside India. The pricing for Brazil has also been indicated at $15 per dose. Bharat Biotech has received advance payments from several other countries at the above price points, with supplies in process, pending approvals,” it said.

Bolsonaro has already been in trouble for his role in dealing with COVID-19 and taking the pandemic lightly in the initial days. Now that the election is due next year his critics are gunning for him after the serious allegation in purchase of vaccines with the Indian firm, whose Covaxin has not got the approval of the World Health Organisation.

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