Politics and xenophobia cloud the race for a vaccine in Brazil

A nurse shows a Covid-19 vaccine produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech at the Sao Lucas Hospital, in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil on August 8.

(CNN)For a country ravaged by the coronavirus, Brazil might welcome a race to create the first vaccine on its own soil -- with the potential for early dibs.

But in the age of Covid-19 and under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, nothing is that simple.
As three joint-ventures begin testing a new vaccine in Brazil -- and others wait in the wings -- the provenance of the research has become a hugely divisive issue, complicated by xenophobia and conspiracy theories shared by anti-vaxxers and prominent politicians, including Bolsonaro allies.
    The two big research players are the Swiss pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, working on a vaccine developed by the UK's Oxford University, and Chinese biotech company Sinovac, working in collaboration with Brazil's Butantan Institute. Both have begun the final Phase 3 testing of the virus. A third venture involving US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech is also conducting research in Brazil.
    Two other potential research efforts -- one involving another Chinese firm Sinopharm and the other led by Russia's Sputnik V -- are being negotiated by the state government of Paraná.
    All see Brazil as an ideal country for research because of its surging rate of Covid-19 transmission -- as of Thursday there were more than 3 million cases and over 104,000 deaths -- as well as its internationally respected research centers and a public health system experienced in creating and distributing vaccines.
    Officially, Brazil claims to be neutral in the race to develop the coronavirus vaccine.
    Secretary of Science, Technology, Innovating and Strategy Health Supplies Helio Agnotti said as much on Tuesday, declaring Brazil will welcome whatever vaccine is approved for use first. "The adoption preference will be to arrive with proven effectiveness first. There is no problem in having an agreement with a certain partner, so that we close with another," Agnotti said.
    But his boss Bolsonaro has expressed his clear preference, promising citizens in a recent Facebook Live broadcast that the pandemic "would be overcome" once the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is available.
    Last week, he signed a law to allocate $355 million for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine -- about $262 million for the purchase the technology and vaccine ingredients for 100 million doses, and $93 million for Fiocruz, the Brazilian partner, to adapt its manufacturing plant for the mass production of the vaccine.