Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), the highest court in the country, ruled on Thursday that Brazilian authorities could limit the freedoms of individuals who refuse to take a vaccine against the Chinese coronavirus, but could not physically force a person to take it.
The ruling – which passed nearly unanimously, save for the one justice appointed by conservative President Jair Bolsonaro – inspired an outraged statement by the president, who argued that those who already had a coronavirus infection are likely to have antibodies already and that Brazil will not have enough doses of a functional vaccine for the entire population.
The STF did not mandate the vaccine; it has no power to do so. It did confirm, however, that any future attempts to mandate vaccines would be constitutional so long as they did not directly force someone to take the vaccine.
Chinese coronavirus vaccination has been the subject of intense political controversy in Brazil, which has documented over 7 million cases of coronavirus infection since the pandemic began. Bolsonaro has repeatedly insisted that he would not allow mandatory coronavirus vaccinations and that he would ban the distribution of unproven Chinese vaccine candidates because “the Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig.”
Bolsonaro has met stern resistance from some left-leaning regional governors, most prominently the governor of Sao Paulo state, Joao Doria. The government of Sao Paulo reportedly received 2 million doses of Coronavac, a vaccine candidate by the Chinese company Sinovac, on Friday morning. Anvisa, Brazil’s top drug authority, declared Sinovac “not transparent” in its research prior to the delivery.
The Brazilian newspaper O Globo explained that the STF declared only “indirect” attempts to force individuals to take a vaccine against their will are legal, such as fines or banning individuals from certain social services. The federal government, state governments, and municipalities, the ruling elaborated, are the bodies with the power to impose these restrictions and said restrictions must abide by scientific rationales.
“Selfishness is not compatible with democracy,” Justice Cármen Lúcia asserted in the ruling. “The Constitution does not guarantee a person the freedom to be sovereignly selfish. It is the duty of the State, through public policies, to reduce risks of diseases and other ailments, adopting the necessary measures to protect everyone from the contamination of a dangerous virus.”
Justice Alexandre de Moraes – a crusading jurist behind attempts to strongarm social media networks into censoring Bolsonaro allies and police action against comedians and Youtubers who support conservative policies – railed against “demagogy, hypocrisy, ideologies, obscurantism, electoral political disputes and, above all … ignorance” in his ruling to allow mandated vaccines.
“Unfortunately, we see the discussions blossoming with a lot of hypocrisy in absolutely radical statements where many people declare themselves against vaccines,” he claimed, accusing those objecting to dubious vaccine candidates from rogue countries like China of “hypocrisy” for being comfortable with standard vaccinations to travel abroad against diseases like yellow fever.”
The president of the STF, Justice Luiz Fux, who also supported the ruling, emphasized the court’s refusal to forcibly mandate vaccination rather than attacking those with questions about unproven vaccine candidates.
“Nobody is going to be dragging anybody by the hair to get them vaccinated,” Fux asserted.
The only dissenting jurist, Justice Kassio Nunes Marques, argued that mandating a Chinese coronavirus vaccine made no sense because Brazil’s drug authority, Anvisa, had not approved any vaccine yet.
“There is currently no vaccine registered in Brazil that can be administered even voluntarily to citizens,” Nunes Marques said. “How can [petitioners] ask this STF to authorize or ban the imposition of a mandatory vaccine by public entities if there isn’t even a vaccine in Brazil?”
Bolsonaro himself made similar remarks following the ruling, arguing that the country would not even have enough doses of the vaccine for all citizens, so some may be punitively affected for not taking a vaccine that is not available.
“They took an advanced measure, they don’t even have a vaccine, there won’t be enough for everyone,” Bolsonaro said during a live social media broadcast.
“What did the Supreme Court decide? That if you don’t want to take the vaccine, I, the president of the Republic, the governors of states, could impose restrictive measures on you,” Bolsonaro noted, “you can’t have a passport, driver’s license, you can be put under house arrest, how nice.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, Bolsonaro again insisted that he would not take a coronavirus vaccine – he tested positive for the virus in July and has since made a full recovery – and pivoted to criticizing Pfizer, the American manufacturer responsible for the only legally approved vaccine in the United States.
“I’m not taking it. Some people say that I am setting a bad example. Hey imbecile, hey idiot, saying that I am setting a bad example – I already had the virus! I have antibodies already,” Bolsonaro said. “Why take the vaccine again?”
“Another thing that has to be very clear … there, in the Pfizer contract, it’s very clear, ‘we [Pfizer] take no responsibility for any side effect,'” Bolsonaro continued. “If you turn into an alligator, that’s your problem. If you become Superman, if a woman grows a beard there or a man starts speaking in a high-pitched voice, they have nothing to do with that.”