Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday denied paying for or receiving any Covid-19 vaccine doses from Indian firm Bharat Biotech, Reuters reported. His statement came amid a federal investigation into alleged irregularities in a contract between Brazil’s health ministry and Bharat Biotech for 20 million (2 crore) doses of Covaxin.
“We didn’t spend one cent on Covaxin,” Bolsonaro was quoted as saying by Reuters on Thursday. “We didn’t receive one dose of Covaxin. What sort of corruption is this?”
Bolsonaro claimed that the vaccine price agreed to with Bharat Biotech was mostly in accordance with the amount being paid by other countries. The Brazilian president promised to take action if the corruption charges were proved.
Bharat Biotech has been allowed to conduct third phase trials of Covaxin in Brazil. However, it is yet to receive the approval for public use.
On Wednesday, Bharat Biotech said it was yet to supply the vaccines to Brazil and claimed that it was transparent about the pricing, according to Reuters.
To buy vaccines, the Brazilian health ministry will have to pay $320 million (Rs 2,375 crore approximately) to Precisa Medicamentos, Bharat Biotech’s intermediary in Brazil. So each dose of Covaxin will cost Brazil $15 (approximately Rs 1,100).
This is significantly higher than what the health ministry paid for American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s vaccine, which has already obtained regulatory approval in Brazil.
Officials from the Brazilian health ministry also reportedly did not consider that Precisa, Bharat Biotech’s intermediary, had a history of alleged irregularities in contracts with the federal government.
Luís Ricardo Miranda, an official from the logistics department, had told the federal prosecutors on Wednesday that he was pressured by one of Bolsonaro’s closest allies to buy Bharat Biotech’s vaccine.
Covaxin, a made-in-India vaccine, had been found to be 77.8% effective against the coronavirus disease in phase 3 trials. The data has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, Bharat Biotech can now approach the World Health Organization for emergency use listing of the vaccine, which would make it easier for Covaxin to receive approvals in other countries.
The Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have taken pride in showcasing Covaxin as the country’s first indigenously developed vaccine against Covid-19. Bharat Biotech developed the vaccine in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology.