The coronavirus has killed an estimated 1,300 babies in Brazil since the beginning of the pandemic, even though there's overwhelming evidence that Covid-19 rarely kills young children.
While data from the Health Ministry suggest that over 800 children under age 9 have died of Covid-19, including about 500 babies, experts say the real death toll is higher because cases are underreported because of a lack of widespread coronavirus testing, according to the BBC, which first reported the story.
Dr. Fatima Marinho of the University of São Paolo, a leading epidemiologist who is a senior adviser to the international non-governmental organization Vital Strategies, estimated that the virus has killed 2,060 children under 9, including 1,302 babies. Her estimate is based on the number of excess deaths from an unspecified acute respiratory syndrome during the pandemic.
There is a misconception that children are at zero risk for Covid-19, Marinho told the BBC after she found that there have been 10 times more deaths from an unexplained respiratory syndrome over the past year compared to previous years.
Marinho added that, throughout her research, she has seen a rise in cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome among Brazilian children. The rare syndrome is a newly identified and serious health condition associated with the virus that causes Covid-19 infections. It tends to affect children up to six weeks after they are infected with the coronavirus.
Brazil has become the country with the second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths, more than 361,000 since the pandemic began, the most in the world after the United States.
Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders in English, said Thursday that the government's "failed response" to the pandemic had led to thousands of avoidable deaths.
"More than one year into the Covid-19 pandemic, the failed response in Brazil has caused a humanitarian catastrophe," Dr. Christos Christou, president of Doctors Without Borders, said in a briefing with reporters. "Each week there is a grim new record of deaths and infections — the hospitals are overflowing, and yet there is still no coordinated centralized response."
Last week, more than a quarter of the world's coronavirus deaths were in Brazil. Christou said he expects the situation to worsen in the coming weeks if nothing changes.
So far, right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has opposed lockdowns, has held large events where he often does not wear a mask. He has only recently embraced vaccines as a possible solution.
Experts in Brazil say low coronavirus testing rates, lack of contact tracing efforts and a shortage of vaccines have contributed to rises in cases and deaths. These factors have also increased the risk of exposure and potential death among more Brazilian babies and children.
"Their refusal to adapt evidence-based public health measures has sent far too many to an early grave. The response in Brazil needs an urgent, science-based and well-coordinated reset to prevent further avoidable deaths and the destruction of the once prestigious Brazilian health system," Christou said in a statement Thursday.