BRASILIA, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Brazil is battling bureaucracy
in China to free up exports of active ingredients for vaccines
developed by AstraZeneca and Sinovac Biotech, three people
familiar with talks told Reuters, without which an immunization
push could soon slow to a trickle.
More Brazilian states gave their first COVID-19 vaccinations
on Tuesday, as the government distributed some 6 million ready
doses of the vaccine from China's Sinovac after its
approval on Sunday for emergency use.
However the sources, who spoke anonymously due to diplomatic
sensitivities, said red tape in China was holding back supplies
needed for Brazil to finish and distribute millions more doses
from its own biomedical facilities.
"It's a new situation, and there's a bureaucratic problem.
The Chinese are still defining procedures, which takes time,"
one source said. "There's also a relative scarcity of supplies."
The person said Brazil was not the only country struggling
with export hurdles. "It's not targeted at us."
Right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly
antagonized China. Recently, he disparaged the Sinovac shot
based on its "origins."
Brazil's federally funded Fiocruz biomedical center said it
would not be able to deliver finished doses of the AstraZeneca
shot until March as it waits for the first shipment of
active ingredients from China. The institute had been aiming for
1 million doses by mid-February.
A British government minister on Monday flagged concerns
about a "lumpy" manufacturing process slowing the rollout of
vaccines from AstraZeneca and Pfizer in the United
AstraZeneca has arranged for substantial manufacturing of
its vaccine's active ingredients in China. Last month, Brazilian
health inspectors visited and approved the facilities of Chinese
firm WuXi Biologics to export the ingredients of the
AstraZeneca shot for finishing in Brazil.
However, the first shipment to Fiocruz in Rio de Janeiro has
been delayed repeatedly, leaving the facility there idle.
Brazil's government is scrambling to import ready doses of the
AstraZeneca vaccine from India, but has faced delays there too.
In Sao Paulo, the state-funded Butantan Institute has
imported enough active ingredients for the Sinovac vaccine to
fill and finish nearly 5 million doses, on top of the 6 million
finished doses already imported and distributed nationally.
The next shipment of ingredients has been delayed and
Butantan officials warned on Monday that if it does not arrive
by the end of the month, the institute will be unable to hit its
target of 46 million doses delivered by April.
"The Chinese side is doing its homework," said a second
source, who is familiar with the Chinese government's thinking.
"But the bureaucracy is very vigorous."
A third source said talks were advanced and the shipments
should "soon" be cleared for export.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Jake Spring
Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca
Editing by Brad Haynes, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)