Vaccines Begin Arriving in Rio Favelas, Producing Exaltation on Community Social Media

Photo: @SelmaSouzaPhoto / Voz das Comunidades

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This is our latest article about Covid-19 and its impacts on the favelas. It is also part of RioOnWatch’s #VoicesFromSocialMedia series, which compiles perspectives posted on social media by favela residents and activists about events and societal themes that arise.

Images of crowded beaches and of dozens of immunized health workers on social media portray everyday life during the pandemic in the Brazil.

The first holiday of 2021 in Rio de Janeiro—a day when the thermal sensation reached 43.1 degrees Celsius (109.6 degrees Fahrenheit) according to Alerta Rio—led throngs of Rio residents to the beaches of the South Zone wearing no face masks even with a rising number of cases of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the capital. But the date will not be remembered solely as one more day of fear and outrage in these 11 months since the pandemic began. On January 20, a holiday devoted to Saint Sebastian, the city’s patron saint—dozens of images of healthcare workers being inoculated with the first dose of CoronaVac, the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac and Brazilian Instituto Butantan, invaded social media along with the hashtag #VivaOSUS (#LongLiveSUS, celebrating Brazil’s public health system).

It’s really satisfying to see the Santa Casa de Campo Grande team being vaccinated. They’ve been working tirelessly in the hospital’s Covid ward for almost a year, putting their own lives at risk to save others. May images such as these be “the new normal.” #LongLiveSuS

Including a choreography to the tune of Mc Fioti’s “Bum Bum Tam Tam” by Dr. Nayara Rocha, a doctor at Complexo do Alemão’s Family Health Clinic:

Immunized. #SUS #LongLiveSUS

The song, which has become a meme, has been remixed by the MC on behalf of the vaccination campaign: “The engaging vaccine messes with the mind / Of whoever is around. This sassy vaccine / is gonna cure a bunch of lives and save a lotta people. Come here vaccine, tam / Come here vaccine tam tam tam.” The hit became the anthem for Instituto Butantan’s vaccine. Despite the song’s playful lyrics, Mc Fioti, who recorded a new version of his video inside Instituto Butantan, reminded his audience that the shot is taken in the arm and not in the buttocks (bumbum).

The City’s vaccination plan officially began on Tuesday, January 19, at the Ronaldo Gazolla Municipal Hospital in the Acari favela and in some nursing homes. On Wednesday, January 20, the campaign was intensified with teams of primary care workers taking the vaccine to long-term care facilities and to professionals at public and private hospitals working with Covid-19, plus their peers from Family Health Clinics and municipal health centers.

Only 34% of healthcare professionals will be inoculated, however. Even during its initial stage, this phase of the vaccination has breathed new hope and relief to some families, such as journalist Daiene Mendes’.

Original tweet: My mom just got vaccinated against Covid-19! She is a Community Health Agent in Complexo do Alemão! DEFEND THE SUS!

Second tweet: I’M CRYING MY EYES OUT! After everything my family went through, losing my grandma and my uncle right after, seeing my mom be one of the first people in Brazil to be vaccinated is a lot for me!

In April 2020, the journalist, a resident of the favelas of Complexo do Alemão, used Twitter to ask for help and expose the collapse of Rio de Janeiro’s public health system amid the pandemic. In the space of six days, she lost her grandmother and an uncle, both victims of Covid-19 and of the lack of proper state assistance.

Besides being extremely touched, Daiene also posted a picture of her mother as an alligator, participating in a meme which has taken social media by storm. The meme is an ironic criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro’s statement on December 17, 2020: “If you take the vaccine and turn into an alligator, that’s your problem,” in yet another attempt to delegitimize science and the production of vaccines to immunize the population in Brazil and worldwide.

And no sign of metamorphosis
Jokes aside, what a unique and happy moment!
In less than one year of this pandemic that ravaged the planet, getting my shot takes on a very important meaning. #LongLiveSUS #longlivescience #butantan

Rio de Janeiro: By January 23, 115,000 Immunized

The number is very low considering the more than six million living in Rio’s capital. Still, this first phase of vaccination means some light at the end of the tunnel after over ten months of the pandemic for many professionals who work on the frontlines of the fight against Covid-19, community leaders and favela activists.

Original tweet by Fala Roça: Community Health Agent Adalgisa da Silva, 60, was the first person in #Rocinha to get the #COVID-19 shot. She was immunized on the morning of this Wednesday, January 20, at a local Family Health Clinic. (And she did not turn into an alligator!)

Michel Silva’s tweet: I had a flashback going through my head of everything we’ve gone through in Rocinha in the past months. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Images of hope and high emotion:
Employees of the Acari Family Health Clinic got the #CoronaVac vaccine

Media and favela media outlets, among them Coletivo Akari, Fala Roça, Maré Vive and Voz das Comunidades, registered the vaccination of health professionals in their communities’ Family Health Clinics.

Original tweet by Voz das Comunidades: Cleide Oliveira, 47, was the first one to get the shot. A community health agent of the Zilda Arns Family Clinic, she is a resident of Casinhas, has two children, and lost her mother to Covid-19.

Reply to original tweet: In all, 270 employees will be immunized by the Zilda Arns Family Clinic. The first phase of the vaccination plan covers healthcare professionals working on the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus.

Many of the health agents vaccinated and immunized with the first CoronaVac dose are favela residents, as Maré de Notícias pointed out. Community media emphasizes, however, that this is not the time to relax with safety protocols to avoid being infected with the virus: the use of face masks, social distancing and washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol are still necessary measures.

Original tweet by Maré Vive: Today is a day for hope
Resident and healthcare professional Amanda Andrade, who has worked in Maré for years, gave us this piece of news this morning of Wednesday, January 20. In this first phase, the Covid-19 vaccine goes to healthcare professionals.

Second tweet: We know it’s coming slowly, there’s still no date for everyone to get their shot, but just the fact that it’s started already fills us with hope, isn’t that true, favela?
Oh, and keep wearing that mask and using 70% alcohol. The pandemic is still around.


According to data from the State Health Secretariat, 28,215 had died due to coronavirus and 490,821 had been infected by January 21. The Covid-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard,* which brings together over twenty civil society organizations and collectives, by January 26, registered 29,310 favela residents infected and 3,198 who had died due to coronavirus.

It is important to highlight that, in this first stage of vaccination, the population should not head for health posts seeking vaccination. For now, the vaccination plan is aimed at the initial priority groups, made up of: healthcare professionals working directly with Covid-19 patients; primary care workers involved in the vaccination campaign; healthcare professionals working in ICUs, and ERs, and who had been removed from their positions due to age or comorbidities; senior citizens and people with disabilities living in long-term care facilities or professionals working in these places; and indigenous peoples and quilombolas.

According to the O Dia newspaper, of the 487,500 CoronaVac doses that arrived in the state of Rio de Janeiro on Monday, January 18, the capital received 231,840 doses. This total accounts for the two doses necessary for each of the 115,000 people that city government intended to vaccinate by Saturday, January 23.

With 1,382 deaths in 24 hours, Brazil has over 212,000 deaths caused by Covid-19, according to a joint media count on January 20.

*Both RioOnWatch and the Covid-19 in Favelas Unified Dashboard are initiatives of the NGO Catalytic Communities (CatComm).

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