Brazil: Congressional Leader Says Bolsonaro Could Face Impeachment over Coronavirus Vaccine

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrives for a press conference on electricity and gasoline at the Ministry of Mines and Energy in Brasilia, on January 15, 2020. - Bolsonaro spoke about Brazil's possible entry to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (Photo by Sergio LIMA / AFP) (Photo by …
SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

The president of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies — the equivalent to America’s Speaker of the House of Representatives — floated the possibility Monday of impeaching conservative President Jair Bolsonaro based on his coronavirus vaccine policies.

Rep. Rodrigo Maia of the center-right Democrats party said in an interview with the news website Metrópoles that Bolsonaro had failed to organize an adequate plan for the Brazilian government to acquire doses of a vaccine against the Chinese coronavirus, either internationally approved vaccines like those manufactured by American companies Pfizer and Moderna or experimental vaccine candidates from rogue states like Russia and China.

Bolsonaro, who overcame a coronavirus diagnosis last summer, has said publicly that he will not take a coronavirus vaccine because it is his right as an individual not to do so and because he already has antibodies against the virus from his infection. Bolsonaro has also publicly opposed plans by regional governments, and ultimately, by his own Ministry of Health, to import experimental vaccine candidates from China.

“The main error of the entire government of President Jair Bolsonaro is the issue of the vaccine,” Maia said during Monday’s interview. “I find that, on the vaccine issue, if he doesn’t get organized fast — perhaps he will suffer a very difficult impeachment process if he doesn’t get organized fast.”

Maia went on to describe impeachment as “the result of the organization of society,” not a result of Congressional moves, citing the nationwide protests against socialist President Dilma Rousseff that resulted in her impeachment and removal from office. He predicted that an impeachment process could begin in “months,” if popular pressure existed, but added that he did not see significant public demand for impeachment.

Bolsonaro has maintained significant popularity during his tenure, which began in 2019. His public approval rating hit a record high in September, after a summer in which Bolsonaro regularly urged regional Brazilian governments not to shut down businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic, warning of economic collapse if regular economic activity were outlawed. As of December, Bolsonaro’s approval rating remains at record highs, according to the polling firm Datafolha.

Maia’s words are tempered in part by the fact that he will no longer be president of the Chamber of Deputies a month from now, when the lower house of the Brazilian Congress holds an election for his replacement. He stated that, while he could see impeachment happening, he would not begin the impeachment process. Like in the United States, the lower chamber begins the process, but the Senate votes on whether or not to impeach.

Despite claiming he would not impeach Bolsonaro, Maia has used his platform on Twitter to increasingly aggressively attack the president. As the conservative Brazilian outlet Terça Livre noted this week, Maia called Bolsonaro a “coward” for his alleged criticism of his Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello and blamed Bolsonaro for every single coronavirus death in the country, stating pointedly, “it’s your fault.”

Despite the high levels of support for Bolsonaro, frustration in Brazil is brewing over the fact that Brasilia does not yet have a plan for coronavirus vaccine distribution. Part of the reason is that the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa), which oversees approval for new drugs, has not greenlit any offering currently available. Health Minister Pazuello said in December that his ministry had signed a “letter of intent” to purchase over 70 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine — approved by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and currently in circulation in America — but Pfizer has faced significant challenges in getting Anvisa to approve the vaccine. By the end of the month, Pfizer and BioNTech, the European company that worked with Pfizer to develop the vaccine, said they would no longer seek emergency use authorization in Brazil.

Last week, Bolsonaro said he was interested in purchasing a competitor from the American pharmaceutical company Moderna, but that would also require Anvisa approval.
Bolsonaro has vocally opposed Chinese vaccine candidates and personally intervened last year to prevent the governor of Sao Paulo, Joao Doria, from buying coronavirus vaccines from China. Brazilians in Sao Paulo staged a protest against Doria in November, as well, insisting they would reject a vaccine candidate from China and a government move to make any experimental coronavirus vaccine mandatory.

Sinovac, a Chinese company, is currently experimenting with a vaccine candidate known as “CoronaVac” in Brazil. In December, Anvisa accused Sinovac of not providing the necessary information for the agency to make a decision about CoronaVac’s widespread use.

“This vaccine has already received emergency use authorization in China since June of this year. The Chinese criteria to issue authorization for emergency use in China are not transparent and there is no information available over the criteria currently used by Chinese agencies to make this decision,” Anvisa lamented at the time.

Sao Paulo officials claimed last week that the Sinovac offering was 78 percent effective against the Chinese coronavirus, significantly less effective than the American vaccines. On Monday, Brazilian media reported, citing leaked sources, that the true experimental results showed “CoronaVac” to be less than 60 percent effective.

Bolsonaro reportedly agreed to purchase 46 million doses of CoronaVac last week.

Brazil has documented over 8 million coronavirus cases and 203,580 deaths as of Tuesday.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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