Rumors and conspiracy theories swirled this past week regarding the whereabouts of Zé Gotinha, the mascot for the Brazil’s national vaccination program, the AP reports. The clamor surrounding the costumed Zé Gotinha began Wednesday, after former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva drew attention to his recent absence. “Where is our beloved Zé Gotinha?” da Silva said in a speech criticizing President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic. Zé Gotinha, whose name translates roughly as “Joe Droplet” and who resembles an overgrown Casper the Friendly Ghost, was created in the 1980s to help the health ministry promote vaccination against the polio virus and put children at ease. He has since made regular appearances to warn about the importance of preventing measles, tuberculosis, whooping cough, diphtheria, and, most recently, COVID-19.
But the last time Gotinha was seen publicly in a ceremony in Brasilia was Dec. 16, launching the national vaccination program. The character, much beloved by children, declined Bolsonaro’s attempted handshake in the name of social distancing. Da Silva, a leftist who is Bolsonaro’s rival, presented his own theory about what happened to Gotinha: “Bolsonaro fired him, because he thought he was from the Workers’ Party.” One theory is that the mascot's publicity services may not be needed at the moment, as Brazil is using its limited doses to vaccinate the elderly and people in priority groups, not yet children. Many on social networks are speculating about Gotinha’s fate. One person spoke of the drama of Gotinha being unemployed. Another reinterpreted a typical poster of a missing child, with the image of the mascot and the caption “disappeared”. (Read more Brazil stories.)