Vaccine reaches descendants of runaway slaves in Brazil

A ray of hope reached a community descended from runaway slaves outside Rio de Janeiro this week as it received its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

It came after a long fight for recognition at a time when Brazil has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

The community in Mage, 30 miles from Rio, is known as a “quilombo,” a settlement founded by people who escaped from slavery.

Nunes: “Today, after many deaths, we are vaccinating our community."

Ana Beatriz Bernardes Nunes, vice president of the Association of Quilombola Communities, said it was a battle to get the government to include the communities among priority groups for vaccination.

NUNES: ''It was not easy. It was a constant, daily fight, without sleep."

Across Brazil there are over 3,000 quilombos, according to the Palmares Cultural Foundation, with more than 1 million people, known as quilombolas, living in these communities.

Brazil was the last place in the Americas to abolish slavery, eradicating it in 1888. By then, at least 4 million people had been taken from Africa and forced to work on sugar plantations and throughout the economy.

Most of their descendants in quilombos still live below the poverty line, with difficult access to healthcare, making them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

Their shots come at a critical time.

Another COVID-19 wave driven by more contagious coronavirus variants is ravaging Brazil, with daily deaths exceeding 4,000 for the first time this week.

The total death toll in Latin America’s largest country has risen above 340,000 and may eventually pass the United States to become the highest IN THE WORLD, according to some experts.

The country's vaccination program got off to a slow start after the country failed to move quickly to secure vaccine supplies.

But for those living in quilombos, the vaccinations mean the worst might be over.

For Paulo Jose dos Reis, leader of the quilombo in Mage, they give him hope that better days are ahead.