‘In Brazil, it would take too long’

Vinicius Lemos – @oviniciuslemos – From BBC Brasil in São Paulo

posted on 05/04/2021 08:20

On Tuesday afternoon (03/30), Abdel Perez, 18 years old, just took the first dose of the covid-19 vaccine. He lives in Santana do Livramento, in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, on the border with Uruguay, and went to the neighboring country just to get immunized.

The son of a Uruguayan, Abdel is an example of double sheet, as Brazilians of Uruguayan descent who have dual citizenship are called in the region.

Like him, Brazilians over the age of 18 and who have Uruguayan citizenship can be immunized against the new coronavirus in the neighboring country – it is not necessary to be a health professional or be part of some other priority group.

“It was fascinating, a very good surprise. I didn’t expect to be vaccinated so quickly, because I was waiting in Brazil, where it would take a long, long time,” says the young man to BBC News Brasil.

While Brazil is making slow steps towards immunization against covid-19, Uruguay has advanced rapidly in immunizing its inhabitants. The neighboring country plans to vaccinate about 70% of its nearly 3.5 million residents by the end of the first half of this year.

Several residents of Santana do Livramento have been vaccinated in Rivera, Uruguay. In the Brazilian city of about 76 thousand inhabitants, many residents have dual citizenship.

There are also several Uruguayans who live in Brazil and went to their country of origin to be immunized. Brazilians working in Uruguay are also being vaccinated there.

Vaccination on the Brazilian border is considered fundamental by the Uruguayan authorities, due to the current scenario of the pandemic in Brazil, with successive records of deaths and cases.

People wait in line to be vaccinated
Personal archive / BBC
Queue of people waiting for covid-19 immunization at a health facility in Rivera, Uruguay

‘I scored by WhatsApp’

It was through a post on Instagram that Abdel knew he could already be vaccinated. “It came out on the profile of the public health network in Uruguay that were starting to vaccinate (different ages), I got the WhatsApp number on the page, forwarded my data and marked it,” says the young man, who had the application scheduled for days later.

In order to be vaccinated, Brazilians need to register and forward to the Uruguayan Ministry of Health a document that proves the link with the neighboring country. This can be done through the folder website or on a WhatsApp number created to schedule immunizations.

After confirmation, the Uruguayan Ministry of Health sends data on the location and the date of vaccination for the first and second doses.

Abdel took his first dose of CoronaVac two days after he turned 18. On the same date, his mother, who is Uruguayan and lives in Brazil, also received the first dose.

The two took about 15 minutes from Santana do Livramento, where a health unit in Rivera lives at the vaccination site.

In the area of ​​the Uruguayan hospital for immunization only, Abdel and his mother had to fill out a form with their Uruguayan data. Then they went to a line, in which people need to keep a distance of about two meters between them.

Abdel smiles for photo
Personal archive / BBC
Abdel comments that it would take a long time to get immunized in Brazil, as he is not part of any priority group

“It was all right, it went as planned. We arrived 20 minutes early and still managed to be vaccinated before 3 pm (which was the scheduled time)”, reports the young man. He and his mother will take the second dose in late April.

Another Brazilian who was also recently vaccinated in Rivera is university student Daniela Muratorio, 25 years old. She was immunized on Friday (26/03). “When the vaccine arrived in Uruguay, I already knew that the process would be much faster (than in Brazil)”, says the young woman, who lives in Brazil, is the daughter of Uruguayans and has dual citizenship.

“It was all very fast. My brother, 28, was vaccinated (with the first dose) the day before me. My father, 58, was vaccinated in early March in Uruguay and is already going to take the second dose. . “

Vaccination in Uruguay

Uruguay started immunizing against covid-19 on March 1. It was the last country in South America. Despite this, the Uruguayan authorities announced that they had already bought enough vaccines for the local population – immunizers have been arriving little by little in the country.

Currently, Uruguay has the Coronavac vaccines, from the Chinese Sinovac, and Cominarty, from the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNtech. While the first has been applied to a large part of the population, the second has been used mainly in health professionals and the elderly over 80 years of age.

Daniela smiles for photo
Personal archive / BBC
Daniela now awaits the second dose that is already scheduled for April

Subsequently, the country should also receive doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, through the international consortium Covax Facility, an initiative linked to the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute immunizers against covid-19.

In the first week of the immunization campaign in Uruguay, the country prioritized health professionals, military police, teachers and firefighters. Then, citizens over 80, elderly people living in shelters and prisoners.

Another group that also had priority was people between 50 and 70 years old. At the time, vaccination started for Brazilians with dual citizenship who were in the same age group.

Daniela Muratório is seated while a nurse gives vaccine against covid-19
Personal archive
Daniela Muratorio, 25, was vaccinated in Uruguay

After the priority groups, the country started vaccinating the general population, over 18 years old – which also became valid for Brazilians with dual citizenship.

Immunization for the general population was advanced due to the current pandemic scenario in Uruguay, the worst since the first covid-19 records in the country.

“We saw that we are very threatened by the increase in cases of covid-19, so we prefer to expand the vaccine horizon,” says Uruguayan infectologist Eduardo Savio Larriera, coordinator of the immunization committee of the Pan American Association of Infectious Diseases.

Considered a positive example in the midst of the pandemic, Uruguay is now facing serious difficulties. Recently, the country surpassed the mark of 100 thousand cases of covid-19 and 1 thousand deaths by the disease during the whole pandemic.

Despite maintaining one of the lowest mortality rates due to covid-19 in Latin America (approximately 1%), the current rates indicate a worrying situation in the country. In recent weeks, Uruguay has recorded constant daily records of new cases and deaths from covid-19.

The local health system faces the highest level of occupation since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to Larriera, immunization in the border region with Brazil was considered a key action in the Uruguayan immunization plan. One of the main fears, according to him, is the current situation in Rio Grande do Sul, which is facing the severe period of the pandemic so far and its health system is overburdened.

“Cases of the Brazilian variant P1 have already been identified, which is considered to be more transmissible, so the border between Uruguay and Brazil is of extreme concern. The problem is that we have an open border with uncontrollable traffic of people,” says the expert.

Manuella Ibargoyen holds the identification card of his Uruguayan citizenship
Personal archive / BBC
Manuella Ibargoyen, 20, poses with Uruguayan citizenship: document gives rights in the country next to the Brazilian

‘Uruguay was more active than Brazil’

According to government data, Uruguay vaccinated, until this Sunday morning (4/4), 716.9 thousand people (20.5% of the population, 3.5 million inhabitants) with the first dose and 68 thousand (1.9%) with the second. The country started immunizing the second dose about two weeks ago.

In Brazil, which started vaccination in mid-January, 19.2 million people (9.1% of the population, 210 million inhabitants) were immunized until Saturday night (3/4), according to a consortium of press vehicles. The second dose was applied to 5.34 million people (2.54%).

Despite the huge difference in the proportions of the two countries, experts say that it is possible to use Uruguay as an example to demonstrate the problems that Brazil faces in relation to immunization against covid-19.

“Even with a much smaller population, proportionally Uruguay was much more active, sought more vaccines and was better organized for vaccination. The government of Brazil did not organize itself, did not buy anything before, so it is a very complicated situation”, says Fernando Barros, professor of epidemiology at the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPel).

“Brazil, knowing that it had about 200 million people to vaccinate, had to have bought vaccines much earlier. Now, it is running behind and is having difficulties”, says Barros, who has worked at the World Health Organization agency in Uruguay .

The delay in Brazilian vaccination worries specialists and authorities, amid the height of the pandemic in the country. The Ministry of Health states that the goal is to vaccinate the entire population of Brazil by the end of the year.

According to a recent announcement by the folder, the goal is to vaccinate all priority groups by the end of May and to start immunizing Brazilians aged 18 or over starting in June.

The Ministry of Health estimates that Brazil may receive 563 million doses of vaccines against covid-19 by the end of the year.

‘A relief’

The vast majority of Brazilians who are turning to the neighboring country to become immunized decide to cross the border because they have no hope that they will be vaccinated in a short period in Brazil.

There are no official data on Brazilians with dual citizenship who were vaccinated in Rivera.

In Santana do Livramento it is common for someone to know someone double sheet who went to Uruguay to get vaccinated. Vaccination is currently in the 65s in the city.

Manuela being vaccinated
Personal archive
Manuella was vaccinated on Thursday in Uruguay, two weeks after her parents were also immunized in the neighboring country

A resident of the city, 20-year-old university student Manuella Ibargoyen knows several Brazilians who were vaccinated in Uruguay for having dual citizenship. For her, the most important immunizations occurred on March 16. On the date, the young woman’s parents, mother of 53 and father of 59, received the first dose of Coronavac in Rivera.

Manuella’s mother is Uruguayan and her father is Brazilian, but he is the son of Uruguayan and is therefore a citizen of the neighboring country.

“I am relieved, because I was constantly afraid of losing someone to the covid. My biggest fear was that my parents would get the virus, because I didn’t know how they were going to react. Now that they are vaccinated I am more relaxed, but I know it is still it is necessary to maintain care and wear a mask “, says the young woman to BBC News

On Thursday (1/4), it was Manuella’s turn to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“Here on the border, we had the privilege, because we had another nationality. Now, I hope that Brazil will follow Uruguay, which is setting an example of logistics and vaccination, even though it took a long time to start,” she says.

“It is necessary to guarantee the health of the population, the vaccine is essential for anyone.”

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