Struck by social unrest and a serious coronavirus epidemic, Chile hopes to take a step forward by ahead of its South American counterparts in the race for vaccines against Covid-19.
Over 2.7 million doses have so far been administered to the Chilean population, 19 million – more than in all of Africa. This has made the country one of the forerunners of the global per capita vaccine race, behind only a few richer countries, like Israel, the UK and the US.
Although the center-right government of President Sebastián Piñera came under pressure after violent protests against inequalities that erupted in October 2019, its pragmatic approach to immunization is expected to contribute to Chile’s economic recovery and political position. government before the presidential election in November.
“This is a classic example of what happens when you have good relations with many countries,” said Jorge Heine, Chilean professor of international relations at Boston University (USA), noting the large number of free trade agreements that the country has with others.
“I hope other countries will learn from this and realize that [é útil] you can research and buy the best you can at the best price, without having an ideological eye patch, ”he added.
After bragging about the first positive results when the crisis erupted a year ago, Chile’s death rate peaked at 170 deaths per week in June. Some believe this has encouraged the technocratic government – which has cultivated a reputation for competent macroeconomic management – to focus entirely on immunization.
Most of the vaccines applied in Chile so far have been purchased from Sinovac of China, the country’s main trading partner. About 4 million doses of Sinovac have arrived and another 6 million are expected to arrive by mid-March.
David Gallagher, the Chilean Ambassador to London, helped obtain vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. He largely attributed Chile’s success to a strategy similar to that of the UK, but independently devised in Santiago by Piñera in early May – hedging against risks by securing a “vaccine portfolio” through bilateral deals they didn’t ‘were’ totally not marked by nationalism. or ideology, without giving importance “to where the vaccines were made.
“It made a difference,” said the former investment banker and professor at Oxford. “Since Chile has signed many trade agreements, no one is afraid to answer the phone – if necessary by calling the CEO of a pharmaceutical company – and just keep going.”
In addition to gaining the initial advantage in negotiating vaccine deals, analysts also welcomed Chile’s insight into arranging clinical trials in exchange for early delivery and lower vaccine prices. Some vaccine producers already had good relations with Chilean universities and hospitals before the start of the pandemic.
In total, Chile has commitments for many more vaccines than it needs to immunize the entire population. The country has set a goal of vaccinating 5 million by April and 15 million, or 80% of the population, by July.
But Jorge Gallardo, a medical expert in Chile involved in the approval of Sinovac, expressed concern about the effectiveness of the Chinese immunizer, compared to others. “Something is better than nothing in the face of this serious situation, but there is a lot of uncertainty,” he warned.
Despite these concerns, he highlighted the effectiveness of Chile’s well-organized vaccination system, widely accepted by the population since its inception in the 1970s.
The vaccine was offered free of charge and frontline workers and the elderly were given priority. The central government also helped organize the process, unlike some countries where it was left to local or regional authorities.
Sinovac has also been found to be easier to distribute – especially to more isolated communities in Chile’s unusually long and logistically complex territory – because it does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures like some other vaccines. .
The vaccination campaign is expected to help restore economic growth after last year’s contraction. The Chilean economy is expected to grow 5% in 2021, after shrinking nearly 6% in 2020, according to Ana Madeira, an economist at the Bank of America. The world’s largest copper exporter will also benefit from rising red metal prices in nearly a decade.
For some, the bigger question is what the successful vaccination might mean for social reconciliation in the country, where divisions have boiled after protests that erupted in 2019.
“This is a great opportunity to heal the soul of Chile,” said Rodolfo Carter, mayor of the populous and diverse neighborhood of La Florida, in southern Santiago, which has set up a vaccination center in a renamed football stadium. Espaço Esperança.
Describing a country that is “deeply wounded,” Carter said the immunization process was a unique opportunity to unite a country where, despite being one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America during In recent decades, inequalities have remained high and a large part of the population complains about a disconnected elite.
“When a rich person sitting three feet from someone in a poor community waiting for the vaccine, public health can restore people’s dignity,” Carter said. “We must seize this opportunity to regain a country where people no longer burn churches or metro stations. More than reaching out, it has to do with hearts.”
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Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves