It seems unbelievable, but today’s Brazil gives an example of how far radicalism and ignorance can go and how threatening are those who preach and follow scientific denialism, which has found an ideal means of propagation, through social media (McKee and Diethelm 2010). The arrival of a vaccine should have been widely celebrated, especially in a country that has the second largest number of cases of COVID-19. But instead, the first shipment of vaccines to Brazil had to be hidden, not to be within reach of the threat of Brazilian groups that are against vaccination, partly because of fears of its foreign (Chinese) source, and favor supposed alternative remedies of unproven efficacy.
How could this happen? The Brazilian government is complicit. Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro recently questioned the need for a rush for a vaccine against COVID-19 (Bello 2020). Lost in daydream, he also stated categorically that he will not take any vaccine, for he mistakenly claims not to need it on the grounds that he would already have been infected by now. Such an attitude could be just a subject for jokes: The government is notorious for its ignorance about many subjects. But its horde of followers is large and noisy, impeding the dissemination of a vaccine that can avert thousands of deaths. And the government’s dismissive attitude toward the COVID-19 vaccine bolsters anti-vaccine movements in general, at a time when vaccination rates for various diseases (such as measles and polio) are decreasing and vaccine rejection rates are increasing around the world (Silva 2020).
Brazil is conspicuous for the virulence of its government-led COVID-19 denialism. But anyone who supposes that this phenomenon is restricted to developing countries would do well to reflect on the death threats received by the American immunologist Anthony Fauci over his role in combating the pandemic there (Ioannidis 2020).