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Indian drug-maker pulls out from Brazilian vaccine deal amid charges of graft

·3-min read

An Indian drug-maker withdrew from a contract to sell vaccines to Brazil amid charges of graft that rocked the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro. Bharat Biotech has denied wrongdoing in the deal to sell 20 million shots to the Covid-hit country.

The company did not give any reason for walking out of the November deal worth 275 million Euros with two firms which included its Brazilian representative Precisa Medicamentos.

“The company has terminated the said memorandum of understanding with immediate effect,” Bharat Biotech said in a statement.

“Notwithstanding such termination, Bharat Biotech will continue to work diligently with ANVISA, the Brazilian drug regulatory body to complete the regulatory approval process for Covaxin,” it added.

Precisa Medicamentos, Biotech’s erstwhile Brazilian partner, called the decision “hasty” and added it was an outcome of politics.

“It is a direct consequence of the political chaos caused by the debate on the pandemic,” The Wire reported, citing a statement it said the online publication received from the Sao Paulo-based firm.

The Brazilian freeze

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa, following up on the announcement by the Indian firm froze planned clinical trials of the Covaxin Covid-19 shots, calling the step a “precaution.”

“The suspension was carried out as a result of a statement from the Indian company sent to Anvisa on Friday,” the regulator said.

The controversy around Covaxin erupted after a Brazilian health ministry official, Ricardo Miranda, alleged illegalities in its acquisition, saying he had been pressured to clear a dodgy invoice.

On 30 June, federal prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into allegations that President Jair Bolsonaro sat on evidence of corruption in the vaccine deal.

Official Miranda testified his superiors had exerted "atypical, excessive" pressure on him to approve payment for the deal, which he suspected was over-billed.

The alleged embezzlement row in recent weeks rocked the administration of president Bolsonaro, who has denied any wrongdoing.

The far right politician also faces anger over his handling of the pandemic which has claimed 548,420 lives in Brazil as on Saturday.

►Delhi takes cautious steps to ease virus curfew as Covid cases dip

►India cautiously eases lockdown in five states as Covid cases decline

The Indian denial

The Indian government has not reacted to the controversial deal except saying merely it is “an agreement between a commercial entity and a foreign country."

The Indian drug-maker has denied wrongdoing and asserted it offered Covaxin to Brazil at its lowest bench-marked price of 12.7 Euros a dose as part of its global supply outreach.

The privately-owned company also said it did not receive any advance payments and added it has not supplied any vaccines to the Brazilian health ministry.

Bharat Biotech claimed all its actions, including its global dealings, were done in line with local laws and that the company “employs and follows the highest standards of ethics, integrity and compliance at all times,” NDTV said on Saturday.

It jointly developed Covaxin with two state-run medical research bodies but the it invited controversies ever since it was rolled out as India’s second vaccine after Britain’s AstraZeneca.

►India’s Covid toll tops 400,000, courts seek damages for pandemic victims

On Youtube crosshairs

YouTube on Wednesday removed a number of videos posted by the Brazilian leader because they spread misinformation about coronavirus.

"After a careful review, we removed videos from Jair Bolsonaro's channel for violating our COVID-19 medical misinformation policies," Youtube said in a statement.

Bolsonaro's YouTube channel has over three million subscribers.

Posts of Bolsonaro were removed both by Twitter and Facebook last year because they criticized virus safety protocols and promoted unproven remedies for Covid-19.

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