SANTIAGO – The Health Ministry announced that nearly 210,000 people were inoculated on the first day of mass vaccinations in Chile. Over 1,400 vaccination centers opened their doors to people aged 90 and over, who are first in line according to the program. The rollout was not without its hiccups, but authorities are optimistic about its progress.
President Sebastián Piñera hailed it as a “great day for Chile” as the country inaugurated its COVID-19 mass vaccination program on Wednesday. The first day welcomed all patients 90 years of age and older and health workers.
Health Minister Enrique Paris highlighted the importance of vaccinating the elderly first as “[t]hey worked and sacrificed for Chile, their children and grandchildren. They deserved to be first in line and show the country that we are making progress to beat coronavirus.” Over 24,000 in this age group have now been vaccinated. Paris also thanked the commitment shown by healthcare workers, especially those in the primary care units.
Schools, clinics, stadiums, and even churches are some of the locations that authorities are using to inoculate the public. To avoid overcrowding and to better serve those who have mobility issues, some districts are also offering drive-thru options (e.g., Las Condes and Lo Barnechea) and home visits.
¡Ya partimos con la vacunación contra el Covid-19! 🙌🏻 El alcalde @CristobalLira y @SALUDORIENTE estuvieron en el punto de Explanada Los Nogales, donde estamos vacunando al auto a los mayores de 90 años hoy. Además esta mañana estuvimos con el primer vacunado de la comuna 🥲 pic.twitter.com/x5ZOFrNFKs
— Lo Barnechea (@lo_barnechea) February 3, 2021
Vaccination centers in Las Condes have also offered live music and snacks for their patients. Eduardo Fredz (87) attended Leonardo Da Vinci School in Las Condes on Thursday, Feb. 5, to be vaccinated, accompanied by his wife Yolanda (81) who will have to return next Tuesday, Feb. 9, for her turn: “we are both very happy this is finally happening, it’s been very fast and we can’t wait to get back to normal as soon as possible,” he said to Chile Today.
The rollout suffered several complications. Carlos Maldonado Clinic in Viña del Mar did not receive its doses on time and was not able to start until noon. Elsewhere, some elderly patients were turned away because they had not pre-registered online. In La Florida, the large number of people that turned up at Bicentenario Stadium caused crowding and delays, causing many to leave without their vaccine, and, in response, Mayor Rodolfo Carter of La Florida reassured his community that authorities would arrange home visits to deliver the vaccine, adding that “nobody will be left out.”
Despite these setbacks, Minister Paris was optimistic that the vaccination program was off to a good start.
A Lifeline for Healthcare Workers
In the far south, over 3,000 people received their first doses in the Magallanes region. Among them was Andrés Durán, who works as a dentist in the private and public sectors in Punta Arenas. “I am hopeful as I believe that many institutions have come together to set a goal that goes beyond political colors, for a common good,” he told Chile Today. “There have been talks with a number of suppliers to ensure we get enough vaccines to inoculate as many people as possible in the country, and I’m convinced that we are on the right path to get to the 15 million target,” he added.
Schools Are Back?
The optimism around the vaccination plan has ignited questions about whether students can return to the classroom. The Education Ministry set Mar. 1 as the first day of school for children across the country, and when asked by the press during yesterday’s daily briefing, Minister Paris said that he had communicated with his education counterpart and that “the conditions by then should allow for a return to class.” In this regard, Paris suggested that those who work in nurseries, playgroups, elementary, and high schools can expect their vaccines in late February or early March.
Francisco is finishing his degree in Journalism at Universidad Finis Terrae in Santiago.