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Brazilian President Allocates More Than $1 Billion To Produce COVID-19 Vaccines

Brazil, one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the pandemic, is directing more than $1 billion toward the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the country's far-right president announced Monday, Reuters reported.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has criticized lockdown measures and has told Brazilians to "stop whining" about the deadly virus, said about $1.05 billion will be spent on the inoculation effort.

The announcement comes amid an investigation into Bolsonaro's role in his government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has killed more than 421,000 people to date — the second highest number of fatalities in the world.

During the first day of testimony last week, the country's former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta told the Senate committee investigating Bolsonaro's actions that the president "went against science-based Ministry of Health guidelines for fighting the coronavirus pandemic," Folha de S. Paolo reported.

Mandetta was sacked by Bolsonaro in April 2020.

According to the Brazilian newspaper, Mandetta told officials that before getting fired, he wrote a letter to the president saying social distancing could help contain the spread of the virus. "It was very embarrassing for a health minister to explain that the health minister was going one way and the president the other," he said

Since the start of the pandemic, Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the global health crisis and contradicted expert advice on how to slow its spread.

"Enough fussing and whining. How much longer will the crying go on?" Bolsonaro told a crowd at an event in March. "How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution."

The president led hundreds of motorcyclists in a rally celebrating Mother's Day in the capital around Brasilia on Sunday. He took advantage of the demonstration to once again ridicule health officials who advocate for social distancing measures.

"Let all those who want to see the people far from me, or who hope to see me far from the people, give up," Bolsonaro wrote in a tweet.

As of May 9, more than 46.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed, the government reported.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.