Pfizer to vaccinate entire city in Brazil for COVID-19 study

Pfizer wants to study the effectiveness of its own COVID-19 vaccine by inoculating the entire city of Toledo in Brazil.

Specifically, researchers want to study the impact of the vaccine in preventing symptomatic cases, reinfections, hospitalizations, deaths and long-term COVID-19.

Pfizer will work with local health officials and hospitals to vaccinate anyone over the age of 12 and follow them for up to a year. 

In late August, the U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The formula, jointly developed with Germany’s BioNTech, is marketed under the brand name Comirnaty.

Pfizer said it chose the Brazilian city "based on specific criteria, including favorable geography, epidemiological evidence showing stability of the number of cases and variants in circulation, physical infrastructure to administer vaccines, and the city’s vigilance system capacity."

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"We are happy to make part of this observational study and to cooperate on that," Toledo Mayor Beto Lunitti said. "The best vaccine is the one that you get in your arm, and the city of Toledo is open to science."

According to the New York Times, the vaccination rate in Toledo is extremely high with 98% of eligible residents receiving at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 death toll in Brazil has climbed past 600,000. The country’s average daily death toll has hovered around 500 for a month, down sharply from more than 3,000 in April. 

Almost 45% of the population is fully vaccinated, and a booster shot is being administered to the elderly. A greater percentage of Brazilians are at least partially vaccinated compared to Americans or Germans, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

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Gonzalo Vecina, a professor of public health at the University of Sao Paulo, told the Associated Press in July that the delta variant, which is more contagious, would cause "a new explosion" of cases within weeks.

Many in Brazil continue to downplay the pandemic’s severity, chief among them President Jair Bolsonaro, whose popularity has sagged largely due to his government’s chaotic pandemic response. But he hasn’t veered from his positions, including staunch support for drugs proven ineffective against the virus, like hydroxychloroquine.

He also continues to criticize restrictions on activity adopted by mayors and governors, saying Brazil needed to keep the economy humming to avoid inflicting worse hardship on the poor. Last week, during a live broadcast on Facebook, he showed a series of newspaper articles reporting economic turmoil in Europe and the U.S. last year in an attempt to prove he was right all along.

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Brazil’s long history with vaccination campaigns has played a significant role in slowing the virus’ spread, with broad uptake. Nearly three-quarters of Brazilians have received at least one dose so far — despite the fact Bolsonaro spent months sowing doubt about their efficacy and remains unvaccinated himself. Even most of his supporters rolled up their sleeves.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.