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Step-by-Step Approach Followed: Bharat Biotech on Brazil Deal Row

Brazil Health Ministry announced that it will suspend its contract with Bharat Biotech for 20 million Covaxin doses.

Updated
India
3 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Brazil federal prosecutors have initiated an investigation into a contract worth $324 million between the Brazil government and Bharat Biotech for 20 million doses of Covaxin.</p></div>
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Brazil Health Minister on Tuesday, 29 June, announced that the country will suspend its $324 million contract with India's vaccine maker Bharat Biotech amid reports of discrepancies in the deal.

Bharat Biotech, however, has denied allegations of inconsistency within the contract.

"In the specific case of procurement of COVAXIN by Ministry Of Health, Brazil, since the first meetings with MOH Brazil during November 2020, until 29 of June 2021, a step by step approach has been followed towards contracts, and regulatory approvals, during this 8 long month long process. EUA received on 4 June 2021. As of 29 June 2021, Bharat Biotech has not received any advance payments nor supplied any vaccines to MOH Brazil," the company clarified.

The drugmaker further asserted that "Bharat Biotech has followed a similar approach towards contracts, regulatory approvals and supplies in several countries worldwide, where COVAXIN is being supplied successfully."

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Brazil federal prosecutors had previously initiated an investigation into a contract between the Brazil government and Bharat Biotech for 20 million doses of Covaxin.

Reports of discrepancies in the contract had invited a Brazil Senate probe into the deal, which has embroiled the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro into a controversy.

"According to the preliminary analysis of the CGU, there are no irregularities in the contract but, for compliance, the Health Ministry chose to suspend the contract for a more in-depth analysis," the ministry said in a statement, Reuters reported.

Bharat Biotech's Covaxin is an inactivated, two-dose vaccine which has been developed in collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The drugmaker is also facing trouble with its supply to the government in India. The Centre has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, indicating that the company had supplied 28 million doses of the jab to the government up till 12 June, against the order of 80 million doses till May end.

Covaxin has now received Emergency Use Authorisations in 16 countries including, Brazil, India, Philippines, Iran, and Mexico.

The Brazil-Bharat Biotech Contract Probe

Brazil federal prosecutors have opened up an investigation into a contract of $324 million between the Brazil government and Bharat Biotech for 20 million doses of Covaxin.

Pending regulatory approvals, steep prices, and hastened negotiations in relation to the deal have been stipulated as the reasons behind the need for scrutiny over the contract finalised in February.

Bharat Biotech, on its part, has denied the allegations of inconsistency in the vaccine price – $15 per jab – offered to Brazil. The cost of Covaxin has been set as $15-20 per dose for governments outside India, the drugmaker indicated, as per an ANI report.

In addition to the examination by the prosecutor-general’s office, the Bharat Biotech deal has also invited inspection from a Brazilian Senate, with a health ministry official alleging President Bolsonaro's involvement in the contentious deal.

Luís Ricardo Miranda, a Brazilian Health Ministry official, on 23 June, said that he had apprised President Bolsonaro of the internal pressure he was encountering to buy the Bharat Biotech vaccine.

The logistics department official had testified during a Senate probe that he had been coerced by Alex Lial Marinho, an associate of one of Bolsonaro's closest aides, the former Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello.

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Miranda said that he had conveyed the details of the affair, along with documents, to Bolsonaro on 20 March 2021.

The president had allegedly assured the official he would speak with the head of the federal police regarding the issue.

The allegations levelled by Miranda have put the Brazilian president in a pickle, raising questions about his attempts at rectification of the issue following his meeting with the logistics official.

Former health minister Pazuello, who has also been implicated in the coercion, is currently undergoing civil and criminal investigation over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic while in office.

(With inputs from Reuters)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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