Today’s guest post is from Guilherme France, a legislative assistant in the Brazilian Senate
The urgency of halting the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the limited supply of vaccines, has increased the challenges of distributing the vaccine quickly but fairly. As others have pointed out, including on this blog, there are significant risks of corruption in the vaccine distribution process. Brazil provides a troubling illustration of this problem, with instances of corruption or other improprieties related to vaccine distribution having already sparked investigations into mayors and other local officials. For example, there have been complaints that in Manaus, a Covid-19 epicenter, relatives of a local businessman in were fraudulently appointed as employees in health clinics so that they would qualify for early vaccination. And this is but one of several cases where mayors and other local officials allegedly helped their relatives or close associates cut in the line. There have also been reported attempts to pay bribes to nurses for early vaccine access.
There has been similar line-cutting behavior on a grander scale, with various groups, such as prosecutors and judicial authorities, using their political influence and leverage to attempt (without success) to get priority status for receiving the vaccine, ahead of those, like health care workers and the elderly, who need it more urgently. On other occasions, the government acceded to the use of the “priority status” for vaccine distribution as a bargaining chip. In the midst of strike negotiations, it agreed to place truck drivers and other transportation workers ahead of the general population in the vaccination line.
This behavior, while reprehensible, is understandable. Given how hard Brazil has been hit by Covid-19, access to the vaccine is a life and death matter, and the temptation to cut the line, for oneself or a loved one, is just too great. This is why increased control and transparency for vaccine distribution should be a priority for governments at all levels.
- For starters, the determination as to which groups get to receive vaccines first should be a decision left to doctors and other health professionals, following the World Health Organization’s guidelines. The same rules should apply to everyone.
- To ensure appropriate setting and application of vaccine priorities, whistleblower channels should be widely disseminated, in order to help ensure that any irregularity is quickly uncovered and brought to justice.
- Additionally, governments should keep a running tally of the people who have been vaccinated, including breakdowns within each prioritized group. Some local governments in Brazil have started doing this, but so far the federal government has failed to take the lead in compiling local tallies. This information, if properly collected and organized, will also help society evaluate the efficiency of the overall vaccination effort.
In Brazil and elsewhere, the poor and marginalized will also be the ones to suffer the most from abuses of power and bribery in the vaccine prioritization and distribution process. Brazil’s example should serve as warning on the need for special procedures to prevent corruption in Covid-19 vaccine distribution.