SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) – After being one of the most affected countries in the world by COVID-19, Chile is now at the top of the list in terms of vaccinating its population.
With more than 25% of its population shot at least once, the 19-million-strong country on the South American Pacific coast is the Latin American champion, and the world is home to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
This is far from the beginning of the epidemic, when Chile was criticized for its inability to repel and isolate those infected.
So what is the secret to its success?
Government officials and health experts say it was early negotiations with vaccine manufacturers in the country, as well as his previous experience with strong vaccination programs, a record set by the World Health Organization.
In the first months of the epidemic, the headlines in Chile were gloomy. The country’s resuscitation departments were almost full, and the government was unable to control the spread of the virus, despite restrictions that included mandatory blockades.
But at the same time, another story was unfolding that few knew about, which began months ago and later guaranteed the rapid availability of Chilean vaccines.
Chile’s science minister, Andres Cuve, told the Associated Press that formal talks with vaccine companies began last April, just a month after the COVID-19 epidemic was announced.
By May, Cuven said, a team of experts and officials had presented President Sebastian Pinera with a plan, including a roadmap on how to use the country’s network of trade agreements, previous contacts with pharmaceutical companies to get vaccines. Recommendations included part of clinical trials.
This effort was facilitated by contacts made in China months ago. In October 2019, Chilean biochemist Dr. Alexis Callergis traveled to Beijing with two Chilean colleagues to the International Conference on Immunology. There, Kalergis met with experts from the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Kalergis had already applied to Sinovac to work on vaccine research. So when China announced in January 2020 that it had discovered a new virus, and within a few weeks the world saw it spreading across the globe, Kalergis knew he needed to turn to his Sinovak counterparts.
“Using our experience, our contacts, the interest we expressed … we started talking to Sinovac,” said Callergis, director of the Millennium Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the Catholic University of Chile.
He spoke with Sinovak’s colleagues in January-February 2020, and then addressed details to Catholic University dean Ignacio Sanchez, saying they should be handed over to the government.
Sanchez appealed to the Chilean Minister of Health, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging early negotiations with Sinovac and other pharmaceutical companies to include Chile in their clinical trials. Ministers agreed, և The Chilean government began to establish diplomatic relations.
In June, long before any other Latin American country, Chile signed a contract with Sinovac that agreed to deliver a batch as soon as the vaccine was approved, Kalergis said.
Rodrigo Janes, Deputy Minister of International Economic Relations, said that Chile had initially understood the need to work with different pharmaceutical companies at the same time.
“We looked at different alternatives; we did not put all the eggs in the same basket,” he said.
Launched in December, part of the Sinovac clinical trial was in Chile, which involved 2,300 health workers. The government did not publish its results, saying only that they were good.
AstraZeneca and Janssen Can Chinese CanSino vaccines have been tested in Chile, but the results have not been released.
Chile received its first dose of the vaccine in December, from Pfizer – about 21,000, but it was less than promised. The country immediately began vaccinating medical workers. In late January, Chile received the first 4 million doses of Sinovac and was able to speed up vaccination. Massive mass vaccinations began in February.
Chile has fired more than 100,000 shots almost every day since early February, more than tripling this week.
It hit a world record of 1.3 shots per 100 inhabitants on Wednesday, followed by Israel at 1.04, according to Our World in Data, according to Oxford University’s Global Profit Laboratory Global Change Lab.
No Latin American country has had anything close to Chile’s success. For example, Brazil vaccinated only 4% of its population, and Argentina – about 3%.
Health Minister Enrique Paris said Chile had now provided 35 million doses to vaccinate 15 million people, which was already helping other countries. Earlier this month, Chilean authorities donated 20,000 doses of Sinovac to Paraguay, the same amount as Ecuador.
“Chile” planned well and used its resources wisely to enter into bilateral agreements with some manufacturers, “Jarbas Barbosa, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, said this week.
This is not the first time that Chile has implemented a successful vaccination program. Between March and April last year, when the virus broke out, the Chilean authorities vaccinated 8 million people against the flu.
Mario Patio, 75, was one of the first to be vaccinated with Sinovac in February at a school in Lo Prado, Santiago.
“Everything was perfect, fast, great service, well organized,” said Patio, who received his second blow on Saturday. “For me, the vaccine means calmer.”