Opinion | Not Even Bolsonaro Could Break Brazilians’ Love of Vaccines

By Vanessa Barbara

Ms. Barbara is a contributing Opinion writer who focuses on Brazilian politics, culture and everyday life.

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — I don’t know if it’s because I finally got my first Covid shot — maybe hope is a side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine — but for the first time in this long pandemic, I feel that President Jair Bolsonaro may not succeed in destroying us all.

Yes, he’s trying hard: We have registered over 560,000 deaths so far — the second highest toll in the world after the United States’ — and the Delta variant is on its way. From the beginning, the president sabotaged attempts to curb the transmission of the virus, sponsored ineffective treatments, helped to disseminate fake news and allowed, through his negligence, another variant of the virus to spread.

But even Mr. Bolsonaro couldn’t crack Brazilians’ unbreakable love of vaccines. Despite everything — deaths, economic disaster, untold suffering — we haven’t succumbed to despair. Instead, we remain among the world’s most passionate enthusiasts for inoculation.

It hasn’t always been this way. Last December, almost one in four Brazilians were planning to refuse to take the vaccine. Back then, the president was saying that he was “not going to get vaccinated, period” and that citizens would have to sign a liability waiver to get their shots. Mr. Bolsonaro also exaggerated the side effects of vaccines, suggesting that Pfizer’s vaccine might turn people into crocodiles. But as soon as our national vaccination campaign began, in late January, the hesitancy started to dissipate. The more people got the vaccine, the more others wanted to get it as well.

It happened almost naturally, as if people had simply returned to their senses. First, there was the viral sensation of “Vacina Butantan,” a hypnotic remix by a funk musician named MC Fioti celebrating inoculation. Filmed inside one of Brazil’s top biomedical research institutes — complete with dancing staff — it soon racked up 13 million views on YouTube. When Rio de Janeiro started, on Feb. 1, to vaccinate those aged 99 and over, there was widespread delight: The vaccine was on its way. Soon came the long lines of cars, stretching as far as the eye could see, as people eagerly waited for their turn.

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