Brazil investigation launched against presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro over vaccines

Brazil’s top court has started investigating allegations that far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro made remarks about vaccines with the goal of wrongly misinforming Brazilians about the safety of vaccines.

The seven-judge Federal Supreme Court, led by Taluca Salgado, announced Tuesday that it was opening an investigation into claims that Bolsonaro referred to vaccines as “toxins” during a rally last year.

The investigation is also looking into whether Bolsonaro defamed science professionals, and whether his reference to “toxins” could reasonably be taken as a factual statement.

Court documents cited testimony from Bolsonaro’s campaign doctor, Rony de Souza, and testimonies from nurses and pediatricians supporting the accusations.

Bolsonaro is hoping to win Brazil’s presidency on Sunday.

The 66-year-old has attacked vaccines, a policy that would be contrary to international guidelines and to Brazil’s public health record. Brazil has one of the lowest death rates from vaccine-preventable diseases in the world, thanks to vaccines that are in mass use.

While Bolsonaro has stood by his previous views on vaccines, calling them a product of the “imperialist system,” he has stood by his belief that “the vaccines could become a problem in the future.”

Bolsonaro is the front-runner in the polls with a 23-point lead over the second-place candidate, Fernando Haddad of Brazil’s Workers’ Party. Haddad is questioning Bolsonaro’s health record in addition to his own, pointing to his failure to report decades-long medical procedures for his prostate cancer and his recent admission to weight-loss surgery.

More than 90 percent of Brazilians favor vaccinating against human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection in Brazil and the world’s most common cause of cervical cancer. Vaccination is mandatory in Brazil under national health law, and the government spends about $5 billion annually on vaccines for different diseases.

Critics say Bolsonaro has been misinformed on how to best protect children, noting that Brazil is also plagued by a polio outbreak.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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