Plan for mass vaccination of Brazilian footballers hits snag

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(Reuters) - A plan to give COVID-19 vaccines to professional footballers in Brazil hit a snag on Wednesday when the health authority (Anvisa) said any privately imported vaccines must go directly to the public health system.

Anvisa also said vaccines donated by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech Ltd to the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) had yet to receive full regulatory approval in Brazil.

“Brazilian law says that private entities, such as CONMEBOL, are allowed to import their own vaccines but there is a condition,” an Anvisa representative told Reuters.

“They must be donated to the SUS (the public health system) unless all high-risk categories have already been vaccinated.”

Once all high-risk individuals had received a jab, private companies could take half, with the other half going to the SUS, the representative added.

Brazil has so far vaccinated 27.8 million people, or about 13% of its population. More than 77 million form part of the priority groups.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Brazil hard, with thousands still dying each day. The overall death toll so far is 361,000, more than any nation bar the United States.

The setback comes a day after Sinovac said it would donate 50,000 vaccines to CONMEBOL to inoculate players in the top men’s and women’s leagues across the continent.

The move is designed to help ensure a smooth implementation of the Copa America, the international tournament for all 10 South American sides that is due to be played in June and July in co-hosts Argentina and Colombia.

CONMEBOL said each individual federation would be responsible for the import and utilization of the vaccines. A meeting of the CONMEBOL council on Friday is expected to address the issue.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Stephen Coates)