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Brasilia — President Jair Bolsonaro criticised Brazil’s health regulator on Thursday for authorising the vaccination of children aged five to 11 years against Covid-19, one day after his health minister unveiled plans to inoculate that age group.
Bolsonaro, who has bragged about not being vaccinated himself and has consistently cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of coronavirus vaccines, said in a radio interview that he had not heard of children dying of Covid-19 and repeated that his daughter Laura, 11, would not be vaccinated.
According to the national council of state health secretaries, at least 300 children aged five to 11 had died in Brazil from Covid-19 by the start of December.
Bolsonaro said vaccines could have side effects on children but he gave no evidence. Brazilian health regulator Anvisa and its peers around the world have found that Covid-19 vaccines are safe for those from age five and up.
“Are you going to vaccinate your child when the possibility of dying is almost zero? What is behind this? What are the interests of vaccine maniacs?” Bolsonaro stated.
The health ministry announced on Wednesday that it had bought 20-million paediatric vaccines developed by Pfizer and voluntary vaccination of children from the age of five would begin by the end of the month.
In a social media broadcast later on Thursday, Bolsonaro stressed that the vaccination is not obligatory. “No town mayor or state governor can prevent a child from going to school for not being vaccinated,” he said.
Bolsonaro warned that Pfizer has not assumed responsibility for any side effects the vaccine could have in children and said parents should immediately seek a doctor if their child developed chest pains or shortage of breath.
The Brazilian Society of Pediatrics rejected that view and said in a statement that Brazilians should fear the virus and not the vaccines, which can save lives at any age.
Anvisa approved the Pfizer vaccine for children on December 16, drawing heated criticism from people opposed to vaccines and the president, who suggested that children be vaccinated only with a doctor’s prescription.
The ministry dropped the idea as impractical. Requiring a written prescription would discourage vaccination at a time when the more transmissible coronavirus variant Omicron is starting to spread in Brazil, health experts said at a public hearing.
Brazil’s army differed from the president this week on how to deal with Covid-19. It ordered soldiers to get vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distance, and warned them against spreading false news about the pandemic.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.