Exclusive: Washington pressured Brazil not to buy ‘malign’ Russian vaccine

By John McEvoy

As Brazil’s death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic nears 275,000, documents reveal that Washington pressured the Brazilian government not to buy Russia’s “malign” Sputnik V vaccine – a decision which may have costed many thousands of lives.

Malign influences

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently published its Annual Report for 2020.

“2020 was one of the most challenging years in the history of our country and in the history of the Department of Health and Human Services”, former US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar introduces the report.

“There is an end to the pandemic in sight”, he continues, “with the delivery of safe and effective vaccines through Operation Warp Speed”.

Tucked away on page 48, the report shockingly reveals how the US pressured Brazil to reject Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

Under the subheading “Combatting malign influences in the Americas”, the report announces:

OGA used diplomatic relations in the Americas region to mitigate efforts by states, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Russia, who are working to increase their influence in the region to the detriment of US safety and security. OGA coordinated with other U.S. government agencies to strengthen diplomatic ties and offer technical and humanitarian assistance to dissuade countries in the region from accepting aid from these ill intentioned states. Examples include using OGA’s Health Attaché office to persuade Brazil to reject the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, and offering CDC technical assistance in lieu of Panama accepting an offer of Cuban doctors. [emphasis added]

It is also striking that the US dissuaded Panama from accepting Cuban doctors, who have been on the global front line against the pandemic, working in over 40 countries.

As well as Brazil, the US has despatched Health Attachés to China, India, Mexico and South Africa, likely charged with carrying out similar activities.

The documents demonstrate how Washington views global health in strict power terms, willing to sacrifice countless lives in order to deny Official Enemies a soft power victory.

Catastrophic response

Brazil has suffered the world’s second-worst number of Covid-19 death rates, with Bolsonaro’s Covid-19 policy being described as “homicidally negligent”.

Throughout 2020, the Brazilian government consistently refused to pursue any vaccine but AstraZeneca’s, baffling medical experts.

A group of Brazilian mayors urged Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello to resign, writing: “His leadership did not believe in vaccination as a way out of the crisis and did not carry out the necessary planning for the acquisition of vaccines”.

With deaths soaring, Bolsonaro eventually and belatedly opened discussions for the delivery of Sputnik V vaccines.

Secret documents published by Brasil Wire also revealed that the UK had lobbied Brazil on behalf of AstraZeneca as well as British mining firms, showing that the US is not the only country leveraging power on behalf of pharmaceutical multinationals in Latin America.

This is only the latest scandalous episode in Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, and malign US interference in the region.


By John McEvoy

John McEvoy is an independent journalist who has reported from Venezuela, Colombia, and France. He has published in the International History Review, the Canary, Declassified UK, Brasil Wire, Tribune Magazine, and Jacobin.