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Hard-hit Brazil approves first two COVID vaccines

World|: Brasmlia: Brazil's Anvisa health regulator gave emergency approval Sunday for its first two coronavirus vaccines as the country gears up to roll out a mass inoculation campaign amid a devastating second epidemic wave. It authorized AstraZeneca and Oxford University's Covishield shot as well as China's CoronaVac, Anvisa announced, for use in a nation where the COVID-19 death toll now exceeds 209,000. Earlier this month, Brazil said the Chinese vaccine had been shown to be 50 percent effective in preventing people from contracting the virus. As for the Oxford vaccine, results published in December found it was 62 percent effective for volunteers given two full doses and 90 percent effective for those given a half dose followed by a full dose. But both appear to be short of the more than 90 percent effectiveness reported for vaccines developed by US pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna. The CoronaVac and Oxford vaccines have been caught up in a political battle in Brazil between Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria and far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, likely opponents in presidential elections next year. Bolsonaro has repeatedly tried to discredit CoronaVac and described it as "Joao Doria's Chinese vaccine." But after struggling to secure enough vaccine doses for Brazil's population of 212 million, the health ministry announced this month it had signed a deal with local producer, the Butantan Institute, for 100 million doses of the vaccine. Brazil is, meanwhile, hoping to bring two million doses of the AstraZeneca shot from India, where it is produced by the Serum Institute, in the coming days.