Explained: Brazil's $324 million controversial Covaxin deal and its implications for President Jair Bolsonaro

In February, the Brazil Health Ministry signed a contract to supply 20 million doses of Covaxin. (Image: Reuters).Brazil signed a $324 million Covaxin deal, which was embroiled in allegations of corruption. The Health Minister suspended the contract while the investigation continues.Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, and Marcelo Queiroga, the Health Minister, have denied any wrongdoing.The ministry released a statement saying that "according to the preliminary analysis of the Office of the Comptroller General, (CGU), there is no irregularity in the contract, but, for compliance," the ministry stated in a statement.Read more: Brazil suspends $324 Million Covaxin contract amid allegations of irregularitiesBharat Biotech also denies any allegations of wrongdoing in relation to vaccine supply. In an emailed statement, the company stated that it adhered to all standards of compliance as reported by AP.COVID-19 Vaccine Commonly Asked Questions View More How does a vaccine function? The vaccine mimics a natural infection. A vaccine induces an immune response that protects people against future COVID-19 infections. It also builds herd immunity quickly to end the pandemic. A vaccine induces immunity in a sufficient number of people to prevent the spread of disease from one person to another. Good news is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was relatively stable which makes it more likely that a vaccine will be developed. There are many vaccines. There are four main types of vaccine. One is a vaccine that is based on the entire virus. Two is a vaccine that is based on a vector that contains the antigen of SARS.CoV. Three are nucleic-acid vaccines with genetic material such as DNA and RNA of the antigens. Four are protein subunit vaccines. These vaccines contain the recombinant protein of SARS.COV-2 and an adjuvant (booster). How long does it take for a vaccine to be developed? The process of developing a vaccine is complex and long. Vaccines are not given to patients with a specific disease, but are administered to healthy people as well as to vulnerable groups such children and pregnant women. It is mandatory to undergo rigorous testing. Although five years is the fastest time to develop a vaccine, it often takes twice as long or more. See moreThe Brazilian federal prosecutors opened an investigation into this deal, citing the high prices, fast talks, and the pending regulatory approvals as red flags. A Senate panel is investigating the government's handling the pandemic.Also, read: Brazil investigates Health Ministry purchase of Covaxin vaccineBrazil has recently passed 5,00,000. Official COVID-19 deaths. This is the second-highest number in the world, behind the United States. The virus has claimed the lives of approximately one in 400 Brazilians.What is the Covaxin controversy?Brazil's Health Ministry signed a contract to purchase 20 million doses of Covaxin in February. Brazil agreed to pay $320 million for the vaccine at $15 per dose. This was the highest-priced vaccine Brazil bought to Precisa Medicamentos (representative of Bharat Biotech) in Brazil.The allegations were made when a Singapore-based company was accused of being a shell firm and charged the Brazilian health ministry $45,000,000 for yet to be delivered doses of Covaxin. This drug did not have Brazilian regulatory approval.Unidentified whistleblower from the Health Ministry claimed that he was under pressure to approve the import of Bharat Biotechs Covaxin, and that invoices were not correct.Luis Ricardo Miranda (head of medical imports in Brazil's health ministry) stated that an invoice asking for $45 million upfront payment was raised suspicions.Miranda testified before the Senate panel that was investigating the government's handling the pandemic. Miranda said there were many red flags.Miranda stated that Brazil's contract for Covaxin was $300 million. It did not mention Madison Biotech, which Miranda claimed to be a shell company.Miranda began to receive phone calls from his bosses at all hours, putting him under "atypical, excessive" pressure to approve the payment.Anvisa, Brazil’s health agency approved the importation with restrictions of the Covaxin vaccination on June 4. This allowed only 4,000,000 doses. The agency rejected a request to import Covaxin vaccine in March due to concerns about its safety and lack of documentation.What did President Jair Bolsonaro do to encourage corruption?Bolsonaro was accused of being complicit in possible corruption during a deal to buy coronavirus vaccines.Miranda stated that he told Bolsonaro that it was a pressure tactic to sign a contract which would raise the average price for vaccine doses by 1,000%.Miranda raised his concerns to Congressman Luis Miranda. Later, both men claimed that they had met Bolsonaro on March 20, to discuss their concerns about the Covaxin contract.Miranda claimed that Bolsonaro had told him in March that he would command the police to investigate. However, he never did.Investigating the Covaxin dealBrazil's federal prosecutor is looking into possible irregularities in the purchase of 20 million doses Covaxin vaccine. Prosecutors were alerted to the higher price per dose than other COVID-19 vaccines.Luciana Oliveira, a federal prosecutor, stated in a statement, that the ministry had signed a purchase agreement for the Bharat Biotech vaccination, even though it was not approved by Brazil's health authority, Anvisa. Other approved vaccines were already on the market at lower costs.A Senate panel is investigating the government's handling the pandemic.Bolsonaro was also the subject of a criminal complaint at the Supreme Court by one of the most prominent opposition senators."I filed a criminal case today with the Supreme Court due to the serious accusation of the president not taking any action after being notified about a massive corruption scheme at the ministry," stated Randolfe Rodrigues (opposition senator), the commission's deputy chairman.Jair Bolsonaro's ImplicationsBolsonaro's accusations that he turned a blindeye to corruption allegations have raised concerns about his presidency. These claims have given impetus to the opposition’s drive for impeachment.According to Datafolha, the percentage of people who rate Bolsonaros government as bad or horrible has reached an all time high.The Associated Press was informed by seven of the eleven members of the Senate Committee investigating Bolsonaro’s COVID-19 response that they would vote to recommend Bolsonaro be indicted for prevarication once their inquest is complete, which will occur in August at the earliest.This crime involves delaying or refusing to take action as part of a public official duty for personal interests.Bolsonaro could be removed from office by the Supreme Court if he is convicted in a criminal case. However, Augusto Aras, his ally, would need to face charges.The allegations could also cause problems for Bolsonaro ahead of next year’s presidential election. This scandal could prove to be catastrophic at a time when Bolsonaro is losing support and polls show that he is far behind Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, a leftist ex-president, in the 2021 elections.