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CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Bolsonaro thanks China for fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine supplies

(Corrects to 8.5 million doses in first paragraph from 5.4 million doses)

BRASILIA, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime China skeptic, thanked Beijing on Monday for rapidly approving export of enough active ingredients to produce about 8.5 million doses of Sinovac Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine being made in Sao Paulo, as his government scrambles to secure scarce shots.

Bolsonaro tweeted that China has also fast-tracked approval for supplies of active ingredients to make AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil.

Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who says he will not take any COVID-19 shot, has been criticized for the slow and patchy nature of Brazil’s vaccine rollout.

The setbacks to the national immunization plan are the latest example of his poor handling of the pandemic, critics say. Latin America’s largest nation has over 217,000 COVID-19 deaths, second in the world after the United States.

With few vaccines to inoculate Brazil’s 210 million people and a rampant second wave, the country now finds itself almost entirely reliant on the Sinovac vaccine that Bolsonaro, a China hawk, had previously ridiculed.

Brazil’s federally-funded Fiocruz Institute, which has a deal with AstraZeneca to produce up to 100 million doses of its vaccine, said on Monday it expects China to send the active ingredient needed to make the shots locally around Feb. 8.

It had previously said it could deliver finished doses in March, but now says it will await the Chinese shipment before giving a more specific time frame.

“It is not possible to disclose a detailed production schedule at this time,” it said. Fiocruz said it will announce delivery forecasts and production schedule as soon as the export of active ingredients is confirmed.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle Editing by Bill Berkrot

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