Sinovac vaccine restores Brazilian city to near normal

SERRANA, Brazil – A single COVID-19 patient is in critical condition at the clinic of Dr Geraldo Cesar Reis in Serrana, a town of nearly 46,000 people in the countryside of Sao Paulo state. The 63-year-old woman rejected the vaccine that was offered to every adult resident of Serrana as part of a trial.

Doctors say the woman was awaiting one of Pfizer’s shots, which remain rare in Brazil. But she’s an outlier here. Most adults rolled up their sleeves when offered the vaccine made by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac, and the experience turned the community into an oasis of near normalcy in a country where many communities continue to suffer.

Doctors who have treated COVID-19 in Serrana have seen their patient loads evaporate. They are now helping their colleagues with other illnesses and have recently started having lunch at home. Life has returned to the streets: neighbors are chatting and families are organizing barbecues on weekends. Foreigners who previously had no reason to set foot in Serrana arrive for haircuts and dining.

“We are now as full as before,” Rogério Silva, a staff member at a cheap refreshment and snack store, said in an interview. “Weeks ago people weren’t lining up here, weren’t eating inside, and I weren’t letting them use the restroom. Now it’s back.

The success story has emerged as other population centers continue to fight the virus, experience increased infections and new restrictions imposed by the government. Meanwhile, the vaccine seemed intended for wider use. The World Health Organization on Tuesday granted an emergency use permit for Sinovac shooting for people 18 years of age and older, the second such permit it is granting to a Chinese company.

The experiment known as “Project S” lasted four months and tested Sinovac’s firing under real conditions. Preliminary results released on Monday suggest the pandemic can be controlled if three-quarters of the population are fully vaccinated with Sinovac, said Ricardo Palacios, director of the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo State and study coordinator. , which has not been peer reviewed.

“The most important result has been understanding that we can control the pandemic even without vaccinating the entire population,” said Palacios.

The city’s population was divided into four geographic areas regardless of age and gender, and most adults received two injections at the end of April. Results released on Monday showed the pandemic was brought under control after three of the areas were vaccinated. It was not clear if the vaccination was the same in each region.

Serrana has seen great improvements: deaths have decreased by 95%, hospitalizations by 86% and symptomatic cases by 80%.

Likewise, Denise Garrett, vice-president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which advocates for expanding global access to vaccines, called the results “good and very encouraging.”

Vecina and Garrett both said questions remained unanswered and more data was needed to properly analyze the results, including information on people who were vaccinated but did not develop immunity.

The spread of the virus in Serrana has slowed as neighboring communities like Ribeirao Preto, just 12 miles to the west, have seen COVID-19 increase. The recovery has been largely blamed on more contagious variants.

Elmano Silveira, 54, works in a local pharmacy and for the first time wants to live in Serrana, which was looked down upon before the vaccination campaign.

“My friends over there called me all the time. … Now I’m calling them, ”said Silveira. “Before the pandemic, we had a big city vibe here. It was really busy. Now it’s like a desert.

Just a few months ago, Serrana was struggling to cope, according to Dr João Antonio Madalosso Jr. For every patient who recovered in the first three months of 2021, two more arrived in poor condition, a he declared.

“Then, at the end of January, we learned that this project was coming to Serrana. And calm has gradually settled down, ”said Madalosso, 32, pointing to the empty seats in the hospital’s COVID-19 department. “Just look at this. It’s much quieter than Ribeirao Preto and the whole region. The vaccine is not a cure, but it is the solution to turn it into a mild flu so people can continue.”

This does not mean that Serrana is completely free from the virus. Some residents refused to be vaccinated. Others skipped the second dose or got infected before the vaccine took full effect. A few had previous illnesses that prevented them from getting vaccinated.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the effectiveness of the shot. He said last year that his administration would not buy the Chinese vaccine and that he would not let Brazilians become “guinea pigs.” His health ministry signed an agreement to purchase tens of millions of doses just after Brazil’s health regulator approved the vaccine in January. .

Had the government acted sooner, Brazil could have already had twice as many Sinovac vaccines – 100 million doses, Butantan chief Dimas Covas said in a congressional inquiry last week. The injection represents half of the vaccines available to date in the country.

Vaccines arrived too late for some of the 463,000 people who have died from COVID-19 in Brazil, which has the second-largest death toll in the world.

The relative return to normal “could occur throughout Brazil if it had not been for the delay in vaccinations,” said João Doria, governor of Sao Paulo and opponent of Bolsonaro. “These results show that there is only one way to control the pandemic: vaccines, vaccines, vaccines.

Bolsonaro-fueled skepticism over Sinovac’s shot has reached Serrana. It didn’t help that the state of Sao Paulo’s release of efficacy data was confusing, with Doria initially claiming 78% protection against mild cases on January 7, then revising it five days later to 50. 4%, barely above the level required by the health authorities.

Carmen da Silva Cunha, 81, lost friends to the virus and got the vaccine despite “a lot of people trying to get me into my head about the vaccine.”

“Serrana has improved, but it could be a lot more if a lot of people had taken their second stroke,” she said in an interview at the hospital, where she sought treatment for a sore throat. throat. She tested negative for COVID-19 and doctors expected her to return home as soon as possible.

Mayor Leo Capitanelli is satisfied with the results. Standing next to a health screening post on the road leading into town, he said people had only had mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks. And he bragged about Serrana’s plan to organize a music festival for about 5,000 spectators, all vaccinated with Sinovac’s vaccine.

“This project has brought back our pride,” he said. “And that will bring hope for a new start next year.”

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Daniel Lange

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