(Adds comments by president, death toll update)
BRASILIA, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair
Bolsonaro issued a decree on Thursday that will set aside 1.9
billion reais ($356 million) in funds to purchase and eventually
produce the potential COVID-19 vaccine being developed by
AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University researchers.
Brazil's Acting Health Minister General Eduardo Pazuello
said the vaccine could be available for Brazilians by December
He called the vaccine "the most promising in the world" to
fight the virus.
"January is the best bet. The vaccine is the solution to end
the pandemic," Pazuello said during Bolsonaro's weekly live chat
AstraZeneca's candidate is seen as the frontrunner in the
global race to deliver an effective vaccine. On Thursday, the
British drugmaker struck a deal to produce the vaccine in China.
Pazuello said Brazil would initially receive 100 million
doses, which would allow for the vaccination of half the
country's population, and then produce the vaccine locally.
Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly minimized the gravity of the
pandemic, again said the collateral damage of widespread
unemployment caused by lockdowns enforced by state governors and
mayors was worse than the virus itself.
Yet Brazil is approaching 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 in
the world's worst coronavirus outbreak after the United States.
The health ministry reported on Thursday 53,139 confirmed
new cases and 1,237 deaths in the past 24 hours.
Brazil has registered nearly 3 million confirmed cases since
the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to
over 98,000, according to ministry data.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Pedro Fonseca
Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O'Brien)