The government agency said that the incident occurred nearly two weeks ago, on Oct. 29, but did not provide any further details. The decision to temporarily stop recruiting new volunteers apparently came as a surprise to the state-run Butantan Institute, which is working with Chinese biotech firm Sinovac to conduct the trials and had just announced plans to ramp up production capacity on Monday, in anticipation of the vaccine receiving regulatory approval.
Dimas Covas, the head of the institute, said Monday that a death had occurred but the regulator’s announcement didn’t make sense “because it’s a death unrelated to the vaccine,” according to Reuters.
“As there are more than 10,000 volunteers at this moment, deaths can occur,” Covas told Brazilian television network TV Cultura. “It’s a death that has no relation with the vaccine and as such it is not the moment to interrupt the trials.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has previously expressed skepticism about Sinovac’s vaccine, as well as a general distrust of China. Although Brazil has already entered a deal to purchase millions of doses the vaccine if it proves safe and effective, Bolsonaro contradicted health officials last month and said the government would not do so, writing on social media, “The Brazilian people WON’T BE ANYONE’S GUINEA PIG.”
With more than 5.6 million coronavirus cases, the world’s third-highest total, Brazil has become a crucial testing ground for potential vaccines.