SANTIAGO – The country that once had the highest coronavirus infection rate has turned things around. Chile now ranks fifth highest for vaccinations per capita. Prompt action was needed and several key decisions were made to get Chile to where it is.
As more and more countries rolled out their mass immunization programs in the last few months, attention has focused on the more successful, and, despite its initial failure to contain the spread of COVID-19, Chile has become a leader at both the regional and global levels in terms of vaccine rollout. Numbers from the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data project show the country had vaccinated more than 15 percent of its population by Feb. 21, placing it above the rest of Latin America and even the European Union, which is still reaching for 6 percent.
Locally, the Chilean government was slammed for its mishandling of the pandemic. In May 2020, Chile had one of the highest infection rates. Despite this, according to Health Minister Enrique Paris, plans to get vaccines were drawn up very early in the process. As a result, the government secured over 84.4 million doses from different suppliers: Pfizer/BioNTech, Sinovac, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, among others, meaning the country could easily vaccinate every citizen twice.
Another key factor was Chile’s participation in phase 3 clinical trials for several vaccines. This presented the country with an advantage during negotiations, in which Sinovac offered early access and a better price for their Coronavac vaccine.
Chile’s public healthcare system has also made the logistical process easier: patients attend their local clinics for vaccinations, and local authorities have opened additional vaccination centers to deal with increased demands and to avoid overcrowding. The private sector has also played a part, with airlines flying in vaccinations from far-flung destinations and distributing them to the length of the country.
Other nations in the region are far behind Chile for various reasons. Peru and Argentina are facing public backlash as news surfaced about government officials skipping the line and receiving vaccines before anybody else, which resulted in the resignation of Argentina’s health minister. Although the Chilean government has admitted that some 37,000 healthy people have been vaccinated out of turn, high-level officials have waited until they are entitled to the first dose, as per the government’s calendar. Chile’s 71-year-old president, Sebastián Piñera, was only vaccinated once he was eligible on Feb. 12.
Health authorities set an initial five-million-target for vaccinations in the first quarter of 2021 and at the current rate of one million per week, the country’s medical college is confident this will be achieved, to then work toward the 15 million goal by the end of June. Minister Paris told the media on Feb. 22 that herd immunity will be reached by then, prompting the end of restrictions and the eventual return to normality.