Bharat Biotech's Covaxin
Image Source: Bharat Biotech

Brazil suspends Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin order over alleged corruption

On Wednesday, Brazil has announced the temporary suspension of the contract amid allegations of irregularities, which it has agreed to buy 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin.

After accusations that President Jair Bolsonaro had turned a blind eye to alleged corruption in an agreement to purchase the COVID-19 vaccines, Brazil has suspended a $324 million contract for Covaxin. A former employee of the Brazilian Health Ministry told the Prosecutor’s Office that he was forced to sign a deal that would boost the average price of doses by 1,000%. The Health Ministry employee stated that he was under pressure when approving the import of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine from India. There have been irregularities in invoices, especially during an initial payment of $45 million to a Singapore-based company.

Brazil's health minister Marcelo Queiroga and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro
Image Source: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

The deal between Brazil and Bharat Biotech, which was induced and negotiated by a local company called Precisa Medicamentos, has been the center of a political debate, as it became the primary priority of the parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) looking into the government’s approach handling the pandemic in the country.

Federal prosecutors in Brazil have initiated an inquiry into the deal, noting red flags such as the contract’s comparably high fees, rapid discussions, and pending regulatory approvals. The senators investigating the government’s approach to the pandemic also investigated allegations of corruption involving close government allies for the first time. In addition, they focused on delays in vaccine purchases and the government’s push for untested COVID treatments up until now.

President Jair Bolsonaro, on the other hand, has denied his involvement in the matter, stating he was aware of all irregularities. His popularity among the citizens has also fallen drastically as the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil has exceeded 500,000. However, these concerns remain remembered by the public, and they may cause him troubles ahead of the Presidential Election next year.

In its statement, Bharat Biotech addressed the media reports and explained the Covaxin procurement process required by Brazil and other countries. The company follows a standard procedure that is well acknowledged and established in the industry. Furthermore, the company receives a letter of intent (or MOU) for purchase based on a country’s requirement. According to the statement, the company also files an emergency usage authorization (EUA) in the respective nation. Bharat Biotech also added it has neither received any advance payments nor supplied vaccines to Brazil as of June 29. Covaxin pricing has been officially fixed at USD 15-20 per dose for supply to governments outside of India.