BRASILIA, Jan 6 (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro criticized health regulator Anvisa on Thursday for authorizing vaccination against COVID-19 for children ages 5 to 11, a day after his Health Minister revealed plans to inoculate that age group.
Bolsonaro, who has boasted of not being vaccinated and has constantly questioned the efficacy and safety of injections against the coronavirus, said in a radio interview that he has not heard of children who have died of COVID-19 and reiterated that his daughter Laura, 11 years old, will not be inoculated.
Bolsonaro said the vaccines could have side effects in children, but did not provide evidence. Anvisa and health regulatory bodies around the world have found COVID-19 injections to be safe for children as young as 5 years old.
“Are you going to vaccinate your child when the possibility of dying is almost nil? What is behind it? What are the interests of the vaccine maniacs?” Bolsonaro said.
The Health Ministry announced Wednesday that it had purchased 20 million pediatric vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc and that voluntary vaccination of children ages 5 to 11 would begin at the end of the month.
In a broadcast on social media later Thursday, Bolsonaro stressed that vaccination was not mandatory. “No mayor or state governor can stop a child from going to school because they are not vaccinated,” he said.
Bolsonaro cautioned that Pfizer has not taken responsibility for the side effects that the vaccine may have on children and said parents should see a doctor immediately if their child develops chest pains or shortness of breath.
The Brazilian Society of Pediatrics rejected that view, saying in a statement that Brazilians should fear the virus and not vaccines, which can save lives at any age.
Anvisa approved Pfizer’s vaccine for children on December 16, prompting criticism from opponents of the inoculation campaign and from the president, who suggested that children should only receive the injection with a prescription.
The ministry dismissed the idea as impractical. Requiring a written prescription would discourage vaccination at a time when the omicron variant of the coronavirus is beginning to spread through Brazil, health experts said at a public hearing.
According to the national council of state health secretaries, at least 300 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have died in Brazil from COVID-19 as of early December. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle; Edited in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)