As much of Latin America faces slow or interrupted vaccination campaigns, steeped in misinformation and deviation scandals, Chile has become a model of vaccination in the region.
With a campaign launched on December 24, the country has already applied at least one dose to 28% of its 18.7 million people, and the goal is to reach 80% by June. Those who have already received the two doses of the Covid immunizer, in turn, correspond to 13%, according to the local Ministry of Health.
In the ranking of doses per 100 inhabitants, Chile (42/100) is the fourth country in the world to have vaccinated the most, according to data compiled by the American newspaper The New York Times, behind only Israel (108/100), Seychelles (93/100) and United Arab Emirates (71/100).
For comparison, Brazil currently has 6.1 doses per 100 inhabitants.
“What explains the speed is a set of factors,” explains Miguel O’Ryan, an infectious disease specialist at the Biomedical Institute at the University of Chile. “First, contacts were made with vaccine manufacturers in advance, in May of last year, and the government relied on more than one vaccinator. The idea was to conclude contracts with several companies, so as not to be held hostage by production capacity. one laboratory or run the risk that the chosen vaccine will have problems. “
The scenario described by O’Ryan occurred in Argentina, which initially closed the contract only to receive Russian Sputink V. However, the supplier did not deliver the quantity of doses stipulated in the agreement. which forced the government to leave, late, in search of other vaccines, such as those manufactured by the British AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Chinese Sinopharm.
In Chile, Sinopharm, Pfizer and AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccinations are applied.
The infectious disease specialist also underlines the government’s effort to ensure the rapid arrival of vaccines in the country. To this end, pharmaceutical companies were given the opportunity that Phase 3 of vaccine development could be conducted in Chile, “which gave us priority for purchasing the first batches”.
“Then there was good centralized planning by the national government, without causing regional competition or immunizing areas of the country faster than others,” says O’Ryan.
This planning was facilitated by the vaccination system which has existed in Chile since 1978 and which has 1,400 vaccination sites, including areas far from major centers.
Rodrigo Yáñez, Foreign Trade Secretary, recalls that in addition to the 200 million dollars (1.1 billion reais, in the price of this farm) included in the 2021 budget for the purchase of vaccines, an additional 100 million dollars were recently added to the amount.
Fernando Leanes, of the Pan American Health Organization, adds that part of the success of Chile’s immunization is due to a smooth integration between the ministries of health and science, in addition to the involvement of the country’s universities in coronavirus research and testing.
Asked about suspicions about the effectiveness of the vaccine, epidemiologist O’Ryan said the problem in Chile is one-off. “Few people express this speech, the suspicions about the vaccine are negligible. At this point, it has helped a lot the activities of the media, which stimulate vaccination, and of the government, through an information campaign.
The success of the vaccination campaign, however, contrasts with the current pandemic situation in the country. In early March, Chileans saw the daily number of Covid cases surpass 5,000. After the peak, with 8,122 infections, in June of last year, Chile spent months with low numbers, which barely exceeded 2,000 cases. The ringing started in January, after the holiday season.
“We knew it would happen because that’s the price to pay for the easing that took place at the end of the year,” says O’Ryan. “In addition, vaccination takes a while to have an impact. We estimate cases will start to drop around April 15, by which time most seniors and the population most at risk for the disease will have already received both doses.
For this reason, the government has again enforced restrictions and different types of containment are being imposed across the country. In the peripheral region of Santiago, which is heavily populated, there is a new lockdown. Travel regulations have also increased, with quarantines being more closely monitored when returning from abroad. To date, 911,469 cases and 21,988 deaths from Covid-19 have been recorded in the country.
Faced with the optimistic outlook, even President Sebastián Piñera, who since 2019 has faced one of the most intense waves of protests in Chile’s recent history, has benefited in terms of popularity. He’s still competing with the region’s flashlights, like Nicolás Maduro (14% approval, according to Datanálisis), but has gone from the 12% he had in mid-2020 to 20%, according to Cadem.
One of the government’s concerns is that three big elections are scheduled this year and that postponements are not excluded. Health Minister Enrique Paris said this week that the vote that will choose the members of the new Constituent Assembly for now is being upheld and is expected to take place over two days, April 10 and 11. The election can serve as a beacon for the regional elections in July and the presidential election in November, when Piñera’s successor will be defined.