INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Brazilian businesses and non-profit groups announced a plan Tuesday to help speed up the government's troubled Covid-19 immunization drive, with the goal of vaccinating the entire country by September.
The "United for the Vaccine" initiative aims to tap the logistical expertise of the private sector to help get vaccines into the arms of Brazil's 212 million people, who are facing one of the world's worst outbreaks of the new coronavirus.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government has come in for criticism for its handling of the pandemic, including its vaccination drive, which started just three weeks ago and is only on track to reach the entire population more than four years from now, according to experts.
United for the Vaccine calls itself apolitical and says its goals are humanitarian, not financial.
Its 400 members include executives from companies such as airline Gol, bank Itau and the Brazilian branches of Volkswagen and Whirlpool.
"We know the goal of September is ambitious, but we are all concerned with saving lives and relaunching the economy. Only the vaccine can defeat our shared enemy, the virus," said Luiza Helena Trajano, chief executive of retail giant Magazine Luiza.
"We're not going to buy vaccines. The government doesn't need money for that.... But we can accelerate the process, thanks to our business' expertise," she told a news conference.
The group plans to help not only the federal government but Brazil's 27 state governments and more than 5,000 municipalities.
It has already conducted a survey of the latter to assess their vaccination-related needs.
The virus has killed more than 230,000 people in Brazil, the second-highest death toll worldwide, after the United States.