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BRASILIA, Brazil, Thurs. Dec. 31, 2020 (Reuters) – Brazilian syringe and needle makers warned on Wednesday the country’s coronavirus vaccination program was at risk after the government set auction prices too low and failed to draw bids for enough syringes to meet its requirements. The Health Ministry sought to buy 331 million syringes at an electronic auction on Tuesday but purchased just 8 million, or 2.5% of its target, after it set reference prices below companies’ bids.

That means that Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has downplayed the crisis and which already lags neighbors Chile and Argentina in rolling out a vaccine, runs the risk of not having enough syringes to distribute vaccines.

Brazil has not yet approved a vaccine and there is no clear date to begin a vaccination program.

Brazil has recorded the world’s third highest number of COVID-19 cases at more than 7.6 million and the second highest death toll at almost 195,000 people. The Health Ministry set the number of syringes and needles to be provided and an estimated price for the auction. “The reference prices set by the government have no relation to the reality that syringe companies are living,” Paulo Henrique Fraccaro, head of Brazil’s medical supplies and equipment industry lobby group ABIMO, said by telephone.

The Health Ministry offered 13 centavos per syringe while companies were asking for between 22 and 48 centavos depending on the item, Fraccaro said.

Given that Sao Paulo, the richest state, has already bought 50 million syringes and plans to buy another 50 million, the entire country would need some 320 million syringes which would cost at most 120 million reais ($230 million), Fraccaro said.

The prospect of running out of syringes could cause panic in the country or lead to more costly imports, he added. ($1 = 5.1937 reais)

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Jake Spring; editing by Jane Wardell)

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