‘Where’s Zé Gotinha?’ Brazilian cartoon who promotes vaccines missing in hour of need | Brazil

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He is a national treasure credited with helping free South America’s largest nation from the scourge of polio and saving countless Brazilian lives.

But in Brazil’s latest hour of need Zé Gotinha – a tear-shaped animation who has spent the last three decades promoting vaccination – has gone missing in action, as efforts to halt one of the most devastating Covid outbreaks on Earth fall afoul of the country’s toxic politics.

Zé Gotinha, or “Droplet Joe” to give him his English name, was created in 1986 to reassure children and parents of the safety of oral vaccination against polio, which was successfully eradicated six years later.

Since then, the cartoon character has become a household name, famed as the pale public face of inoculation against illnesses including diphtheria, measles, tuberculosis and whooping cough.

When the coronavirus pandemic reached Brazilian shores last February, Zé Gotinha was again summoned to the front-line despite the country having, in Jair Bolsonaro, a president who openly opposes vaccination. “I’m not getting vaccinated, full-stop,” Bolsonaro bragged last December as Brazil’s Covid death toll hit 182,000. “If it puts my life at risk, that’s my problem.”

In recent weeks, however, as Brazil’s crisis has deepened and the death toll soared to nearly 280,000, Zé has vanished. The last known sighting of the 35-year-old cartoon was in mid-December when he was filmed refusing to shake Bolsonaro’s hand at a health ministry event.

Last week, as he castigated Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic, former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva demanded answers over the whereabouts of a Brazilian institution.

“Where’s Zé Gotinha? Where’s our dear friend Zé Gotinha?” Lula asked, accusing Bolsonaro of “sending him packing” because the far-right president considered the cartoon to be a lefty.

“He was always nonpartisan. He was a humanist,” Lula insisted, before adding wistfully: “Where is he? He’s gone.”

Brazilian scientists are aghast at Zé’s defenestration, which many see as the perfect symbol of how Bolsonaro has sabotaged Brazil’s world-famed immunisation program.

Brazil’s former health minister, José Gomes Temporão, recalled how during the 2010 H1N1 outbreak, when he was in charge, 90 million Brazilians were vaccinated in just three months. “We have one of the best immunisation systems in the world,” Temporão said.

But Bolsonaro’s dawdling, and politically-charged refusal to buy vaccines from manufacturers including Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen, means Brazil has fallen far short of that since its Covid vaccination campaign belatedly began in mid-January. Only about 13 million of Brazil’s 212 million citizens have so far received shots, with major cities such as Rio repeatedly suspending vaccination because of a severe nationwide shortage of vaccines.

Zé did make a fleeting return to the limelight following Lula’s appeal for information. Scrambling to convince vaccine-deprived Brazilians that President Bolsonaro was serious about fighting the pandemic, his politician son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, tweeted a manipulated photograph of Zé Gotinha carrying an assault rifle-shaped syringe. “Now our weapon is vaccination,” the pro-gun politician wrote, to widespread disgust.

Darlan Rosa, the artist who created Zé in the 1980s, said he felt saddened and angered at the corruption of his character. Zé Gotinha had no interest in firearms, Rosa told one newspaper. “He is the droplet of peace.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Where’s Zé Gotinha?’ Brazilian cartoon who promotes vaccines missing in hour of need | Brazil

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