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Brazil's Bolsonaro asks Pfizer to speed up COVID vaccine delivery

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BRASILIA, June 14 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday asked Pfizer Inc to bring forward planned delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, a government source said, aiming to speed up a slow national inoculation program.

The request is a turnaround for Bolsonaro who last year ignored offers of vaccines from Pfizer, according to testimony to a Senate commission investigating delays in vaccinating the country with the world's second-deadliest outbreak.

Bolsonaro, his chief of staff and ministers of health and foreign affairs, held a conference call with Pfizer Brasil Chief Executive Marta Diez and Pfizer Latin America Chief Executive Carlos Murillo, the president's office said on social media.

Bolsonaro asked the Pfizer executives if deliveries for later this year could be brought forward to June, from the fourth quarter, a government official with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Pfizer Brasil declined to comment on the meeting.

Almost half a million Brazilians have died from COVID-19, yet only 10.3% of the country's 210 million people have received a first vaccine dose, and just 25% have been fully vaccinated, mainly with vaccines developed by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd and AstraZeneca Plc.

Bolsonaro, a vaccine skeptic who opposed lockdown and social distancing, has advocated the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 patients, even though there is no evidence that it is effective.

The far-right leader's government is being investigated by a Senate commission for delays in a vaccination plan that lags behind many other countries. The commission heard testimony that the government never replied to letters from Pfizer last year offering to sell vaccines.

Brazil signed a deal with Pfizer in March to purchase 100 million doses, and the first doses arrived in late April. A second contract in May provided for another 100 million doses to be delivered in the fourth quarter.

(Reporting by Ricardo Britoç, writing by Anthony Boadle; editing by Jane Wardell)

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