• Study of 853 counties in Minas Gerais state finds counties that voted for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 election are more likely to have higher incidence and death rates from COVID-19.
  • Findings suggest Bolsonaro’s denialist attitude to COVID-19 left much of the country vulnerable to COVID-19, leading to unnecessary deaths.

Embargo: 2301H UK time Thursday 14 April

In a study to be presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Lisbon, Portugal (23-26 April), researchers from Sociedade Mineira de Infectologia and Associação Mineira de Epidemiologia e Controle de Infecções show a correlation between the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s denialist attitude to COVID-19 and higher COVID-19 incidence and mortality.

The study, involving 853 counties in Minas Gerais (the second most populous state located in southeastern Brazil), finds that in Bolsonaro voting counties, COVID-19 cases and deaths were substantially higher than in counties where Bolsonaro lost the 2018 presidential election vote.

“The role of politics had a critical impact on COVID-19 responses to the pandemic in Brazil from the outset”, say Dr Carlos Starling from Sociedade Mineira de Infectologia “President Jair Bolsonaro has denied COVID-19 severity, promoted treatments without evidence of efficacy, and discouraged social distancing, the use of masks, local lockdowns and other protective measures, which has likely resulted in higher infection rates and deaths from COVID-19 among his supporters.”

The death toll from Covid-19 in Brazil has passed 659,000, the third highest reported toll of any country in the world [1].

In this study, researchers investigated the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in reducing virus transmission and deaths from COVID-19 in 853 counties in Minas Gerais. They also explored the impact of the President’s denialist attitude to COVID-19 on vaccine uptake and COVID-19 cases and deaths, based on whether Bolsonaro had won or lost the 2018 presidential election in these counties.

Using data on confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths, vaccination rates, and 2018 election results from official government websites, the researchers calculated the COVID-19 incidence rate (new cases per 100,000 residents in the last 14 days) and mortality rate (deaths per 1,000,000 residents in the last 14 days) for each county between 21st January, 2021 (when vaccination started in Brazil), and 10th November, 2021.

Results showed that by 10th November 2021, over half the population (more than 55%) in most counties (682/853) had been fully vaccinated with either Astrazeneca (41%), Pfizer (32%), or Coronavac (28%; see figure 1 in notes to editors).

Overall, the analyses found that the vaccination rate between January and November was similar between counties (see table 1 in notes to editors). As the percentage of the population fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 increased over time, COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates consistently declined (see figure 2).

However, in counties where Bolsonaro won the electoral vote, the COVID-19 incidence rate was 30% higher (7.6%; 1,284,454 cases/16,961,800 residents of 445 counties) than in counties where he lost the vote (5.6%; 249,704 cases/4,450,502 residents of 408 counties; see table 2).

Moreover, the COVID-19 death rate was 60% higher in counties with the highest electoral support for Bolsonaro compared to those with the least support  (212 deaths by COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants vs 132 deaths by COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants; see table 3).

Researchers also performed a more detailed evaluation comparing the impact of vaccination on COVID-19 incidence and death rates in 33 counties with more than 100,000 residents, and discovered a negative correlation between vaccination and COVID-19 cases and deaths in all 33 counties (ie, counties with the lowest vaccination rates had the highest case incidence and mortality rates), except for five cities where there was a negative, but nonsignificant correlation between the full vaccination rate and the death rate.

The study did not receive any funding.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

This press release is based on poster abstract 690 at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID). All accepted abstracts have been extensively peer reviewed by the congress selection committee. There is no full paper at this stage, but the authors are happy to answer your questions. The research has not yet been submitted to a medical journal for publication. As this is an oral presentation there is no poster.

 

For full abstract including tables and graphs, click here

Twitter (for when embargo lifts): @escmid #ECCMID2022

 

[1] – Brazil Coronavirus Map and Case Count – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

 

Table 1 – Percentage of population FULLY vaccinated (results by 10th November 2021).

Table 2 – COVID-19 incidence Rate (results by 10th November 2021).

Table 3 – Mortality by COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants (results by 10th November 2021).

Figure 1 – Population fully vaccinated (%) on 10/11/2021 in 853 counties in Minas Gerais state

Figure 2 – COVID-19 vaccines effectiveness against COVID-19

Figure 3 – Effect of the denialist attitude of Mr Bolsonaro

Selected Media Coverage

Newsweek (USA)

G1 Television and online (Brazil)

MSN Spain (via AFP news agency)