Brazil's Bolsonaro rejects COVID-19 shot, calls masks taboo

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro smiles behind his Economy Minister Paulo Guedes during a ceremony on a program to increase public sector efficiency at the Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he won't take any working COVID-19 vaccine himself and calls the use of masks to limit the spread of the disease “the last taboo to fall.”

Bolsonaro's comments, broadcast on his social media channels Thursday night, alarmed health experts who said they could undermine efforts to achieve vaccination levels essential to halting the pandemic and might scare off vaccine makers negotiating with local authorities.

Bolsonaro also said, however, that any shot that is certified by Brazil's health agency will be available for free to the public.

The Brazilian president, who contracted the virus in July, has long resisted the advice of most scientists and health experts to restrict social and economic activity, arguing that damage from a lockdown would be worse than the pandemic.

He also repeatedly promoted an anti-malarial drug as the cure for the disease despite scientific studies finding it ineffective and possibly dangerous, and criticized state governors testing a Chinese shot at home.

“I tell you; I will not take (any vaccine). It is my right and I am sure that Congress will not create difficulties for whoever doesn't want to take a vaccine," he said.

"If it is effective, lasting, reliable, whoever doesn't take it will be doing harm only to himself, and who takes the vaccine will not be infected. There's nothing to worry about,” Bolsonaro said.

A study published July 15 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that social distancing measures can safely be halted if at least 75% of the population gets a vaccine that is more than 70% effective. Tests have shown some vaccine candidates have a potential efficacy higher than that.