Carlos Wizard Martins: The entrepreneur behind the chains Taco Bell and Pizza Hut in the country thinks he can help Brazil to leave the position of latecomers in the application of vaccines. Less than 10% of the population received the first dose (Fabiano Accorsi / Disclosure)
In the global race for vaccines against a Covid-19, Brazil is among the laggards. Less than 10% of the population received the first dose while the pandemic advances uncontrolled, killing more than 3,500 people a day.
The businessman behind the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut chains in the country thinks he can help. Carlos Wizard Martins leads a group of entrepreneurs looking to buy vaccines against the coronavirus, donating part of it to the government and, at the same time, immunizing employees.
Wizard said that last week he offered to deliver up to 10 million doses to the country, but has yet to receive a response from the government.
“The slowness of the public sector in Brazil is deeply worrying, because while studying our proposal, people are dying,” he said in a video interview.
Wizard and the billionaire Luciano Hang, gift from Mortar, started a marathon of meetings with members of the government last week. They also lobbied to change the recently passed law that vaccines purchased by the private sector must be donated to SUS, until 78 million people in priority groups have been immunized.
Wizard called the law “useless” for both companies and the country, as it only delays immunizations.
“The situation in Brazil is only going to get worse,” said Wizard. “Soon, we will have 5,000 dead a day and all because of the government’s inefficiency.”
In response to questions by e-mail, the Ministry of Health confirmed a meeting with Wizard and said that Minister Marcelo Queiroga supports the private sector’s initiative to purchase vaccines as required by law. The ministry did not comment on details of the offer.
Although Wizard criticized the bureaucracy of the public sector, he did not appoint President Jair Bolsonaro as guilty of the situation. Wizard was appointed as an adviser to the Ministry of Health last year, but gave up taking office a few days later after being criticized for suggesting that Brazil should recount the deaths by Covid.
Wizard declined to say whether he still supports the president, who has been severely criticized for his approach to the pandemic. The businessman says that Brazil’s response has always been haunted by the “ghost of ideology”.
The 64-year-old businessman says the Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell franchises have suffered a strong impact from the pandemic. The brands’ 360 units are “operating at a loss,” he said. Wizard, who also owns the health supplement chain Mundo Verde and has a stake in the language school Wiser Educação, said that these segments have shown better performance during the crisis, despite the government’s “very weak” support for companies.
Wizard’s companies employ a total of 50,000 employees, who would be the first in line to get the vaccine if they achieve their goal, he said. He estimates that Brazil will take four to five months to immunize at-risk groups. After that, according to current legislation, companies can keep up to half of the vaccines they buy, donating the rest to SUS.
Wizard wants the legislation to be changed to start vaccinating his employees immediately, donating the same number of doses to the government that he intends to use. According to him, other companies, such as the Carrefour unit in Brazil, also showed interest.
Carrefour is “studying possibilities, but there is nothing concrete,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.
Even if Wizard gets the regulatory changes he expects, getting 10 million doses to Brazil seems a difficult task when governments around the world are fighting for vaccines. No purchase agreement has been signed, he said, adding that he expects to pay between $ 5 and $ 10 per dose. He declined to specify which vaccines the group plans to buy.
Alan Eccel, who heads the foreign trade consultancy NDI and has worked with Hang in the past, is behind the talks on buying vaccines. The negotiations include only immunizers approved by Anvisa and still require authorization from several areas of the government, he said. Eccel also talks to the laboratories or local representatives themselves in hopes of gaining access to any excess doses.
On Wednesday, Anvisa authorized the emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine. The agency has already released Sinovac Biotech, Pfizer and AstraZeneca immunizers.
Wizard is confident that he can distribute the vaccines if the government does its part.
“In Brazil, education, the economy, sports, everything is paralyzed. Even the churches are paralyzed. We cannot accept spending 2021 as hostages to the pandemic, ”he said.
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