Hundreds of protesters gathered in Brazil’s most populated city, Sao Paulo, on Sunday to protest state governor Joao Doria’s campaign to import Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine candidates and, in general, to oppose leftist pandemic policies.
The protesters chanted slogans like “my body, my choice” – made popular by the pro-abortion movement – and some were seen holding up signs in support of American President Donald Trump, who is facing an election on Tuesday. Some wore protective masks reading “Doria out” in Portuguese and at least one group brought a pixuleco of Doria: a type of inflatable caricature that became popular during the 2016 protests demanding the resignation of socialist President Dilma Rousseff (Rousseff was shortly thereafter impeached).
Doria defied conservative President Jair Bolsonaro and reportedly made an order for 46 million doses of a vaccine candidate by Sinovac, a Chinese pharmaceutical company, last month alongside Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello. The Sinovac candidate is one of several Chinese vaccine experiments and part of a group of dozens of vaccine candidates currently undergoing clinical testing around the world.
Bolsonaro personally intervened, asserting, “the Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig.” Bolsonaro has also opposed calls from the left for the vaccine to be made mandatory, a power that current Brazilian law grants the president. Doria said in mid-October that, if it passes clinical trials, he will make the vaccine mandatory in the state.
Bolsonaro has also staunchly opposed economic lockdowns to prevent the Chinese coronavirus from spreading, claiming they do needless destruction to the economy while not doing enough against the virus to justify the damage. Brazil runs on a federal system, meaning Bolsonaro does not have the power to stop lockdowns; Doria imposed one on Sao Paulo in March.
According to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, about 300 people attended the anti-Doria march on Avenida Paulista, the city’s major thoroughfare, on Sunday. Most appeared to be supporters of Bolsonaro, though the prevailing sentiment was reportedly more against Doria than in Bolsonaro’s favor. The left-wing Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper did describe the crowd as bolsonaristas.
— Portal R7.com (@portalR7) November 1, 2020
One group of protesters held up a sign apparently referencing Bolsonaro’s message about the vaccine candidate, reading “Doria, I am not a guinea pig.” Others held signs reading “my body belongs to me.” One gentleman brought a large sign reading “Go Trump,” apparently in support of the American president’s re-election bid. In addition to the Brazilian flag, and many Brazilian soccer jerseys, participants waved American and Israeli flags.
Cloroquiners se aglomeram na Av. Paulista contra João Dória e a vacina.
É possível ver trumpistas no meio da manifestação que ocorre agora no vão livre do MASP, e que tem como principal alvo político o governador de São Paulo. pic.twitter.com/rUXthNIAY7
— Jornalistas Livres (@J_LIVRES) November 1, 2020
— Bia Kicis (@Biakicis) November 1, 2020
“We’re against the authoritarian Chinese ambassador João Doria, who would now make the vaccine compulsory against our wishes,” Andre Petros, a protester, told Reuters. Another protester described the would-be mandatory vaccine, according to Folha, as a “socialist experiment.”
Brazil has documented about 5.5 million cases of Chinese coronavirus. Not counting rogue regimes highly suspected of undercounting cases like China, Russia, and Iran, that makes Brazil home to the third-largest number of diagnosed cases in the world after the United States and India. It has more deaths documented than India, however, at a little more than 160,000 at press time.
Bolsonaro has attracted significant criticism from the left for his opposition to nationwide lockdowns, which extended to personally patronizing businesses and encouraging bystanders to continue engaging in regular commerce. Bolsonaro tested positive for coronavirus in the summer and used the opportunity to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial, to fight the virus. Scientific testing on the potential of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus remains inconclusive at press time.
Bolsonaro has since focused his attention to the issue of vaccine distribution, taking a vocal stance against mandatory vaccinations. As Folha noted, Bolsonaro has called Doria a “lunatic” and “authoritarian” for supporting mandatory coronavirus vaccination and speculated that Doria is seeking to inject people with the vaccine candidate as soon as possible to take credit for the end of the pandemic.
“It is going away, that happened already,” Bolsonaro reportedly said last week, claiming that the pandemic is receding naturally. “I think he [Doria] wants to vaccinate people quickly because it’s going to end and then he’ll say, ‘it ended because of my vaccine.’ What is ending is his government, that’s for sure.”
Bolsonaro has also faced challenges to his rejection of the Chinese vaccine from his own government. In addition to Health Minister Pazuello agreeing to help Doria buy vaccine candidate doses, Vice President Hamilton Mourão said last week, “it’s logical that the government will buy a vaccine developed in China,” prompting yet another statement on Bolsonaro’s part that no member of his government will override his veto.
“The Bic pen is mine,” Bolsonaro said in response to Mourão’s statements to the Brazilian magazine Veja, meaning only he can sign a deal to buy the product.
China is the origin country of the Chinese coronavirus. The Communist Party’s pharmaceutical industry is notoriously unreliable in manufacturing safe vaccines. China has struggled this year to convince its own citizens to take domestic influenza vaccines, largely considered safe and given annually, after a major scandal erupted in 2018 when the government revealed that as many as 1 million children received faulty vaccines, meaning they were not functionally immunized at all. The scandal caused mass protests and violence, including the public beating of a Communist Party official at the hands of angry parents in Jiangsu province last year.
In September, a vaccine factory in China caused thousands of cases of brucellosis, an infectious bacterial disease, by leaking dangerous pathogens into the air in Lanzhou.