Brazil eyes emergency use for AstraZeneca vaccine after UK approval

The company logo for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is displayed on a screen on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S.

Brazil will soon weigh emergency use approval for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after Britain led the way on Wednesday, as Latin America’s largest country rushes to catch up with immunization programs underway around the region.

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa met with AstraZeneca Plc representatives in the morning and released a statement saying the company’s local partners, federally-funded biomedical institute Fiocruz, will file for emergency use authorization.

Britain became the first country in the world to approve the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. The U.K. approval offers hope to Brazil, which has made the cheap and sturdy British vaccine the cornerstone of its widely criticized vaccine plan.

President Jair Bolsonaro, a prominent coronavirus skeptic who has said he will not take any COVID-19 vaccine, is under pressure to speed up Brazil’s rollout, as regional peers Mexico, Chile and Argentina have already begun immunizations.

Rio de Janeiro-based Fiocruz, which has agreed to import and bottle some 100 million doses for the government by June and eventually produce the vaccine locally, had previously said it would seek full regulatory approval for the shot on Jan. 15.

On that basis, Health Ministry officials had said nationwide vaccinations would begin Jan. 20 in a best-case scenario.

Anvisa’s press representatives declined to say when Fiocruz would file its request for emergency use.

Once submitted, Anvisa said it will take up to 10 days to review the application, adding that the ongoing submission of late-stage trial results would help to accelerate the process.

AstraZeneca and Fiocruz did not immediately answer questions on plans and timing for seeking regulatory approval.

Earlier in the day, AstraZeneca said it was working to offer its COVID-19 vaccine to Brazilians as soon as possible, but made no mention of seeking emergency use approval, which Pfizer Inc has described as cumbersome in Brazil.

The U.K. approval may add to pressure on Brazilian health regulator Anvisa to expedite its own approval processes.

Anvisa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While some vaccines, such as Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot, must be supercooled to -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit), the AstraZeneca vaccine only needs normal refrigeration, making it a more robust candidate for developing countries such as Brazil.

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