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A child receives a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Volta Redonda, Brazil on Monday. (Ernesto Carriço/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

Last June, as Covid-19 cases spiked across Brazil, Camila Basto waited in a São Paulo hospital to find out what was wrong with her 9-year-old daughter, Manuela.

Manuela had a fever that reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), spots all over her skin and a lump growing out of her neck. Her kidneys didn’t work for almost two days. “His heart almost stopped,” Basto said.

After three days, Manuela was diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare disease that affects children infected with Covid-19.

Manuela recovered from Covid, but its side effects left a lasting impression on her heart: she now suffers from arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.

“It’s so awful. She was a healthy child with no underlying conditions,” Basto said.

Manuela survived Covid. But hundreds of other children in Brazil did not.

Between March 2020 and November 2021, 308 children aged 5 to 11 died from Covid-19, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

Now, as a national Covid-19 vaccination campaign for children aged 5 to 11 is underway, it is a relief to many Brazilian parents like Basto, who says it will give him “peace of mind”. .

But the vaccine couldn’t come fast enough for some parents, who have been waiting nearly a month to take their children for the shot.

The reason? Mainly Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro, who says he is unvaccinated, has been widely criticized at home and abroad for downplaying the severity of the virus, including discouraging others from getting vaccinated, as Brazil battles the virus. one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.

The president’s opposition to the vaccination of children is the latest episode in this crusade.

On December 16, 2021, Brazilian regulatory agency Anvisa gave the green light to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children. On the same day, Bolsonaro called the decision “incredible” and threatened to release the names of Anvisa personnel involved in the decision.

And just days before the rollout began, Bolsonaro falsely claimed in an interview with TV Nova Nordeste that no children had died from Covid, before later saying in the same interview that “some children must have died, but they must have a comorbidity”.

These words are perhaps not surprising: last June, while speaking at an event, an unmasked Bolsonaro asked a child to remove his mask and also removed the mask of another child.

Bolsonaro also said he would not vaccinate his 11-year-old daughter, saying “children don’t die in a way that warrants a vaccine.”

However, “these vaccines offer very good protection, with even greater protection for children than for adults, and with excellent safety,” pediatrician and infectious disease expert Dr. Marcelo Otsuka told CNN.

“All the studies suggest that the vaccines are safe and have very good efficacy for the 5-11 age group,” he said.

But Bolsonaro and his administration are largely undeterred by the scientific evidence, their rhetoric delaying the rollout instead.

According to Esther Solano, professor of international relations at the University of São Paulo.

“Bolsonaro is mobilizing his radical supporters thinking about the upcoming elections,” Solano said.

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