RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilians die in record numbers from Covid-19. Intensive care units in a growing number of cities are at or near full capacity as more contagious variants increase cases. The elderly have started sleeping outside vaccination centers in hopes of winning a blow with the country’s limited supply.
But now is not the time for new restrictions on business and transit, President Jair Bolsonaro said defiantly this week. Instead, his government is placing immense hope in an experimental nasal spray, currently in development. in Israel to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients, which the president called “miraculous product.”
On Saturday, Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo is due travel to israel to meet scientists who are developing the spray, which has only undergone preliminary tests and is not used anywhere in routine patient care. Mr Bolsonaro’s government says it intends to test it on critically ill patients in Brazil, where more than 260,000 people have died from the virus and where daily deaths reached a record 1,910 Thursday.
“Brazil is going down in history as a case study of what failing leadership can do in a health emergency,” said Marcia Caldas de Castro, a Harvard University professor who studies global health, “and the way we measure the cost is in lives lost.”
Mr. Bolsonaro was a precocious and effusive champion hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, which he ordered the government to mass produce. He kept on singing his praises this week, even after a team of experts from the World Health Organization strongly discouraged its use, citing studies that have found it ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Brazil’s Covid-19 the vaccination campaign is in slow motion and chaotic start because the government was slow to negotiate access to vaccines, the safety and effectiveness of which Mr Bolsonaro called into question.
As doctors struggle to triage patients as intensive care units fill up, Mr Bolsonaro has renewed his war with governors and mayors over business closures, social distancing and wearing masks.
Sure WednesdayThe president sought to reassure Brazilians that aid was on its way by announcing that his administration intended to sign a memorandum of understanding in Israel to test the nasal spray, which he said could emerge as “the real solution to treat Covid”.
Israeli scientists who are developing the nasal spray say it is too early to say whether it will be a game-changer in the event of a pandemic.
The drug, called EXO-CD24, aims to prevent ‘cytokine storms’, which crush immune system responses to Covid-19 that can cause severe inflammation of the lungs, organ failure and sometimes death.
The first clinical trials showed that 31 of 35 patients with severe symptoms were discharged from the hospital after receiving two to five days of treatment with the drug, said Dr Nadir Arber, a researcher at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv who helped develop it. . In early trials, he said, the drug was delivered by inhalation, but the goal was to deliver it as a nasal spray.
Dr Arber said he was optimistic, but called for caution. “We are still at the beginning of the process,” he said.
The first trials did not include a placebo for comparison. The treatment has not been in advanced clinical trials and its effectiveness has not been evaluated in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Test the drug the efficacy will require additional phases of testing and comparison of the results of patients treated with it with those given a placebo. These studies often take several months.
“There is still a long way to go,” said Tomer Hertz, associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Ben-Gurion University. “It is not possible to judge whether it is working at this point.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is close to Mr. Bolsonaro, has made conflicting statements about the spray. The Israeli prime minister called it a “wonder drug” but also admitted that its effectiveness has not been established.
This week has been the deadliest in Brazil since the outbreak began a year ago, prompting officials in several states to order a new round of curfews and restrictions on business.
Speaking to supporters on Thursday, Bolsonaro denounced the measures.
“You did not stay at home,” the president said. “You weren’t cowards. We have to face our problems. “
Mr Bolsonaro said he regretted any loss of life, but demanded to know: “How long are you all going to keep crying?”
The epidemic in Brazil, among the worst in the world, has become a source of global concern as new, more contagious variants have become dominant across much of the country. Scientists say there is worrying evidence that the variants can make re-infections more likely, and they are urgently studying whether these variants reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
World Health Organization officials on Friday called the outbreak of cases in Brazil deeply disturbing and warned that it could wreak havoc far beyond the country’s borders.
Dr Michael Ryan, director of the organization’s health emergencies program, said re-infections were a growing concern. “There is no doubt that a proportion of the cases that are occurring now are re-infections, potentially due to waning immunity or to the fact that new variants may escape the immunological protection of natural immunity,” he said. he told reporters.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the situation in Brazil “very, very worrying”.
“If Brazil isn’t serious, it will continue to affect the whole neighborhood and beyond,” he said. “It’s not just about Brazil.”
Fourteen Brazilian governors sent a letter to Bolsonaro on Thursday asking the federal government to step up efforts to obtain more vaccines. Starting on Friday, about 6.6 million people in Brazil – about 3.1 percent of the population – had received at least one dose of a vaccine.
“If we do not act quickly, the future will not judge us with kindness”, wrote the governors.
Mr Bolsonaro’s government has denigrated the Chinese vaccine which has been most widely used in Brazil so far. We had to make an offer last August from Pfizer, 70 million doses of his vaccine. She signed up for the WHO vaccine supply system, known as Covax, but only requested the minimum amount of doses required to participate: enough for 10 percent of the population of a country.
Yet Mr. Bolsonaro suggested thursday that the government is doing as well as might be expected in the global vaccine race.
“You have idiots, people on social media and in the press saying go buy more vaccines,” Bolsonaro said on Thursday, sounding exasperated.
He added: “There are none for sale in the world.”
Ernesto Londoño reported from Rio de Janeiro, Letícia Casado from Brasilia and Adam Rasgon from Jerusalem.