In Brazil, vaccine trial volunteers hope to save lives, not win fame
By Amanda Perobelli
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - From doctors tired of seeing patients die to relatives who have lost loved ones, thousands of Brazilians have volunteered for COVID vaccine trials in one of the world's worst-hit countries, in the hope that their silent heroism will save lives.
Latin America's largest country has become a major vaccine testing ground due to the scale of its outbreak, which infected more than 7.3 million people and killed over 180,000 from the coronavirus.
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Denise Abranches, 47, a dental coordinator at a Sao Paulo hospital, was the first volunteer outside the UK to receive the test vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc.
"I've seen many lonely deaths here: patients who couldn't say goodbye to their relatives; relatives who couldn't say goodbye to their loved ones. When the vaccination attempt came, I joined immediately," she told Reuters.
"This global effort by volunteers to find a vaccine will be remembered and made history," she said. "The gesture of love by volunteers. This is how I want to be remembered."
In addition to the AstraZeneca vaccine, studies for Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech and the Chinese Sinovac Biotech Ltd. were also carried out in Brazil. carried out.
While President Jair Bolsonaro, widely condemned for his handling of the pandemic, has pledged not to take a coronavirus vaccine, even if it has been approved by Brazilian health officials, many volunteers believe that vaccinations are the only way to end the crisis.
Some, like Monica Aparecida Calazans, a Brazilian nurse who participated in the Sinovac trial, felt a personal obligation to contribute.
"My brother, who is 47 years old, had COVID-19," she told Reuters. "If I don't take the vaccine, we'll never know whether it works or not. For him, but also for everyone else, I was driven to take part in the study."
The biomedical center that is conducting Sinovac's late-stage studies in Brazil, the Butantane Institute, said Wednesday the vaccine had reached the 50% threshold for effectiveness set by Brazil's health agency Anvisa. It promised to publish more detailed information within two weeks as part of global studies.
Bolsonaro, a right-wing nationalist who is very critical of China's influence in Brazil, has spoken out against Sinovac's vaccine on political grounds.
In a broader sense, he has tried to contain the lockdown measures and minimize the severity of the virus. Actions that critics say have increased the incidence and death toll among Brazil's 210 million people.
Given the severe economic impact and fluctuating political response, some volunteers said the opportunity to participate in the trials made them feel like they were regaining control of their own destinies.
"The hardest thing about the pandemic was ... feeling powerless that you can't resolve the situation," said Ana Hial, a doctor who is also part of the AstraZeneca study. "This global urge to resolve the situation is a very special moment."
Volunteers typically don't try to get the actual vaccine or a placebo, which means that even if the vaccines are ultimately successful, they may not have been protected from the disease the entire time.
Some shrugged what they said were mild side effects of the vaccination.
"For the first few days after taking (the vaccine), I had some symptoms - chills and pain in my body," said Antonia Santos, a nurse who participated in the AstraZeneca study. "My daughter was desperate. She said, 'Mom, you are crazy.' I said, 'No, it would be crazy not to take it.' "
(Reporting by Amanda Perobelli; Editing by Dan Flynn and Lisa Shumaker)
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