As Brazil’s mayors and governors begin to sound the alarm because stocks of coronavirus vaccines are running low, those complaints are not being heard in Serrana, a city that the São Paulo state government selected to test inoculation in a complete city.
The city is small, but the work is considerable: applying the doses for just over eight weeks to all inhabitants aged 18 years and over, a total of 30,000 people. The study, known as Project S, includes monitoring each participant to see to what extent the CoronaVac vaccine reduces the spread of the virus.
Inês Aparecida Giolo, 61, one of the first participants in the study, was inoculated Wednesday morning at a school near her home.
“It’s a lot of joy, because it’s not just for me, it’s for the whole city. That is why we are very happy, “he said.
The idea of vaccinating an entire city was exposed last year, during the peak of the pandemic, as a means to obtain answers to numerous questions in an organized way, according to Dimas Covas, director of the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, which is distributing the CoronaVac inoculations and is a partner in the experiment.
“This will allow us to know in depth what is happening with vaccinated people, but also with the pandemic: the number of people affected, the hospital needs,” said Covas on Wednesday during the opening ceremony.
Serrana – of about 45,000 inhabitants, a quarter of the population of Providence, Rhode Island – was one of the cities worst hit by COVID-19 in the state of Sao Paulo, with approximately 5% of the population infected with the virus said Marcos Borges, director of the Serrana State Hospital, which is also part of the S.
Borges said the city was required to prepare before the study could begin, because it is necessary to monitor the cases closely. All residents with COVID-19 symptoms for at least two days underwent rapid PCR tests, with results delivered in less than 24 hours. A wide communication campaign, with the support of the WhatsApp messages application, was aimed at guaranteeing high levels of participation.
After media outlets said that some Brazilians had rented or bought properties in Serrana in order to be included in the study, Covas, from Butantan, said last week that to register it will be mandatory to have an effective residence history.
The state of Sao Paulo has recorded the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil, although it has also been a leader in efforts to ensure the existence of sufficient vaccines. For their part, federal authorities have been accused of acting slowly.
Butantan signed a contract with the Chinese firm Sinovac in September for the supply of 46 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine, as well as for the transfer of technology in order to produce it in the country in the future.
Butantan last month shared slightly disappointing results for CoronaVac tests in Brazil, showing an overall efficiency of 50.38%. Although its effectiveness is inferior to other vaccines, world health authorities have said that any inoculation with efficacy of at least 50% is useful. The CoronaVac vaccine was 78% effective in preventing cases of mild illness, and totally prevented death.
Project S begins just a month after the country launched its vaccination campaign and when several cities are running out of inoculations for their elderly.
Rio de Janeiro suspended new vaccinations for a week on Wednesday. City officials said they will continue to give second doses to those who received the first, but have suspended new inoculations for older adults.
Rio authorities say vaccines for new containers ran out in part because they pushed the application schedule up a week after they received a new batch of doses. Mayor Eduardo Paes said Monday that the additional inoculations will not be delivered before next week.
Other state capitals had to adopt similar strategies, such as Salvador, in the state of Bahia, and Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso. Imminent vaccine shortages have also been reported in at least four other capitals, according to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo.
Some mayors and governors have blamed the government of President Jair Bolsonaro for not having tried to finalize more contracts for the acquisition of vaccines earlier. So far only two million of the 100 million doses that the government contracted with AstraZeneca have arrived.
Brazilian Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello said Wednesday during an online meeting with representatives from 26 states and the federal district that Brazil will have nearly 231 million vaccines by July 31. Pazuello included the batches of AstraZeneca and Sinovac, the pair of doses that have been applied to many Brazilians, but noted that Sputnik V and Covaxin will also be used, which have not yet been approved by the Brazilian health authorities.
In Serrana there is no risk of vaccination being interrupted, because a special batch of CoronaVac was manufactured exclusively for the study, said Covas, from Butantan. Participation is not mandatory, but it is expected to be high, because until last week the enrollment exceeded 23,000 people. Serrana will not be isolated and people will have freedom of movement.
Participants will be observed for up to a year after their immunization, and the researchers will also assess the impact of the pandemic on the economy and vaccine acceptance rates. The first results are expected within 12 weeks.
Diane Jeantet reported from Rio.