While much of the world sees a decrease in the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19, Brazil is experiencing its greatest peak in the pandemic and today accounts for one in three deaths from the novel coronavirus worldwide .
“Everyone recognizes that there is a very serious situation in Brazil,” American doctor Anthony Fauci said in an exclusive interview with BBC News Brasil.
Fauci is one of the worried eyes the country’s health situation has drawn. Head of the Pandemic Task Force in the United States, the doctor gained worldwide notoriety by publicly contradicting statements by then-US President Donald Trump, who downplayed the severity of the pandemic and acted against them. social distancing measures and in favor of treatments without proven effectiveness. against covid, such as hydroxychloroquine.
Fauci prefers not to treat Brazil as a “threat”, a term commonly used in the international press in the face of the Brazilian contagion wave, but recognizes that the serious situation in Brazil is spreading to South America and that, to contain it, two measures will be needed: increased vaccination and the adoption of measures such as lockdown.
“There is no doubt that tough public health measures, including lockdowns, have been very successful in slowing the spread of cases. So this is one of the things Brazil should seriously think about and consider given so difficult time going on, “argued Fauci.
Three days ago, however, Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga all but ruled out the move, saying “the order is to avoid lockdown.”
On the other front, that of vaccines, the situation is not comfortable either: only 20 million Brazilians (just over 9% of the population) have already received at least one dose of vaccine, and at the current rate it would not reach half of the population this semester.
After refusing Pfizer’s vaccine offers, threatening to boycott CoronVac and not looking for suppliers other than AstraZeneca-Oxford, whose manufacture by Fiocruz suffered successive delays, the Bolsonaro government found itself without much options to speed up the arrival of vaccines in Brazilian arms. .
As of March of this year, the federal government has been trying to negotiate the purchase of a few million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that are currently not in use in the United States and are not expected to be needed for the country, which has sufficient Pfizer. , Moderna and Janssen to the people.
Fauci, however, says the United States should not pass these doses to Brazil as part of a bilateral negotiation.
“The United States is already playing an important role in trying to get vaccines to other countries in need. We have come back to the World Health Organization (WHO), we are joining Covax, ”said Fauci, referring to the consortium led by WHO. to distribute vaccines to the poorest countries.
The doctor added: “And we have already made it clear that as soon as we bring vaccines to the overwhelming majority of people in the United States, in addition to having enough back-ups, we will make the surplus vaccine available in the countries of the United States. whole world. need this. “
According to him, this would be done through Covax, which, however, should not bring much relief to the condition of Brazil, since the federal government chose to participate in the initiative with only the minimum quota, of 42 million doses ( and so far only received a million).
Fauci, who has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, declined to comment on Bolsonaro’s responsibility for the worsening pandemic.
He said, however, that the example of the United States, where more than 550,000 have died from Covid-19, shows Brazil that “denying the severity of the epidemic never helps. In fact, it often makes the situation worse ”.
“To control an outbreak, you have to admit that you have a serious problem. Once you admit that you have a serious problem, you can start doing things to fix it,” Fauci said.
For him, the most effective countries in the face of Covid-19, such as Australia and New Zealand, owe their success to the success of a central command that relied on the cooperation of the population. “When you have conflicts, whether political or not, it always decreases the effectiveness of controlling the virus.”
Read the highlights of Anthony Fauci’s interview with BBC News Brasil below.
A third killed by Covid-19 in the world today is from Brazil. Across the country, people are dying without access to ICUs, there is a lack of oxygen and sedatives in hospitals, and a disproportionate number of deaths among young people. How do you assess what is going on?
Brazil is going through a very unfortunate situation. The P1 variant, which seems to dominate the country, has the distinction of being very effective at spreading from person to person. We don’t know if this causes more serious illness (than the original covid-19 virus), but it probably does.
And, given that Brazil has yet to immunize a large portion of its population, it’s understandable that Brazil’s health care system is overburdened. There is a huge increase in cases which has had a very negative impact on the healthcare system, which in many ways has not been able to keep up with the flow of patients arriving now. So everyone recognizes that this is a very serious situation in Brazil.
Brazil’s Covid-19 vaccination continues at a slow pace due to lack of doses, and the Brazilian president has gone to court to fight the passage of a lockout, which he says is not working not. Given this, what steps could Brazil take to tackle the pandemic?
There is no doubt that tough public health measures, including lockdowns, have been very successful in slowing the spread of cases. You don’t have to do a lockdown without delay to end, but if you restrict traffic and make sure everyone is wearing a mask, you won’t have people meeting in closed environments like in restaurants and bars, which decreases the number of cases.
Therefore, I think it’s important to stress that these types of public health restrictions are crucial in bringing epidemics under control. We have seen in many other countries where there have been a large number of cases that when public health measures were implemented the number of cases dropped dramatically. So this is one of the things that Brazil should seriously think about and consider given the very difficult time it is going through.
The American newspaper The Washington Post showed that the P1 variant, which appeared in Brazil, has spread throughout South America and has already been identified in 25 countries. The same newspaper said the pandemic in Brazil makes the country a global threat. Do you see Brazil as a threat, not only because of P1 but also because of the possibility of other variants appearing?
I’m not going to say that Brazil is a threat because that could be taken out of context and that would be an unfortunate sentence. What I am saying is that Brazil is in a serious situation which is spreading to other countries in South America, which is regrettable. And that’s one of the reasons it’s so important for South America and Brazil, in particular, to try to get as many people as possible as quickly as possible.
There are additional doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in the United States that are not being used. Some scientists in the country argue that the doses should be sent to Brazil as soon as possible. What is your opinion?
The United States is already playing an important role in trying to get vaccines to other countries in need. As you probably know, we have come back to the World Health Organization, we are joining Covax, which is a consortium of organizations and countries whose goal is to bring vaccine doses to parts of the world that do not have access to vaccines. We have given or have already pledged 4 billion US dollars (22.4 billion reais) to do this. And we have already made it clear that as soon as we bring vaccines to the overwhelming majority of the population in the United States, in addition to having enough back-ups, we will make the surplus vaccine available to countries around the world. in need.
And will this be done via Covax?
Yes, via Covax.
The United States appears to have already left the biggest spike in infections behind. What lessons can Brazil learn from the American experience?
I think the lesson is still to follow the science as I have been trying to say for over a year because if you follow the science you will probably have better control over the virus and be able to follow the evidence that are coming. along.
Sometimes it is necessary to impose more stringent restrictions which are public health guidelines to control the outbreak. Denying the seriousness of the epidemic never helps. In fact, it often makes the situation worse. To control an outbreak, you have to admit that you have a serious problem.
Once you admit that you have a serious problem, you can start doing things to fix it.
Is it possible to determine what makes a country such a success story in the pandemic? Could you give good and bad examples and explain why?
I will not give bad examples. I’ll give you some good examples. One of the things that is important is that a country has to come together and people have to act in a uniform way, recognizing that the common enemy is the virus and not having conflicts over the best approach. It is necessary to have a direction and to ensure that the population is cooperative in carrying out the orders of the central power.
We see in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Singapore, where one of the decisions made was to go on a lockdown, and the country followed suit and went into a lockdown. When it was time to open, there was a reopening. But when this decision was made to restrict certain things, everyone cooperated.
This is really a situation in which it is important that there is cooperation, that people have the common goal of fighting the virus. When you have conflicts, whether political or not, it always decreases the effectiveness of controlling the virus.
Should we already have a vaccine specifically focused on the P1 variant?
The vaccines work very well against most of the variants. I think the important thing is to get the vaccine to the Brazilian people as soon as possible. You don’t need to be specific about P1. P1 slightly decreases the effectiveness (of immunizers), but does not eliminate it. Therefore, it is possible to obtain a great advantage with the standard vaccine.
Do you see difficult days for Brazil?
I think if you bring the vaccines to the Brazilian people things will definitely get better. That is what matters. We must be able to control (the contagion) with public health measures, in addition to providing the maximum amount of vaccine as soon as possible to the Brazilian people.
There is a dispute in Brazil now because people want to go to church. We have seen it in the United States. How about that in this difficult time of the pandemic?
I would say people should avoid closed and crowded environments. I know everyone wants to go to church, and that’s very important, but you have to be careful when it comes to crowded places. It is usually a site for the virus to spread.
My message to the Brazilian people is to try as much as possible to avoid the things that lead to the spread of the virus, to wear masks, to avoid going to crowded environments, to keep a physical distance, to wash themselves. hands. When you can. These are the basics of health that, if the Brazilians follow through, will be able to control the pandemic.