March 12, 2021
Prensa internacional

This Small Country Is Way Ahead in the Covid-19 Vaccine Race

This Small Country Is Way Ahead in the Covid-19 Vaccine Race
Chile is advancing a vaccination campaign against Covid-19 that is outpacing not only its Latin American neighbors but much of the world, putting the South American nation on course to become the first developing country to achieve herd immunity.

More than 22% of Chile’s 19 million people have already received at least one dose, a feat topped only by Israel, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, according to Our World in Data, an Oxford University project tracking the global vaccine rollout.

On most days over the past month, 1.1% of Chile’s population—more than 200,000 people daily—have been vaccinated. In the past week, Chile has administered 1.06 doses per 100 inhabitants, on par with Israel, and more than any other country. The government expects to cover 80% of its people by June.

Rodrigo Yáñez, who led the government’s negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, attributes the success to a strategy of casting a wide net and engaging early in negotiations that allowed Chile to seal deals with Pfizer Inc. of the U.S., Sinovac Biotech Ltd. of China, and AstraZeneca PLC of the U.K. The government also funded and hosted Phase 3 clinical trials with several pharmaceutical companies, helping make the vaccines more readily available.

The advances in Chile, which is relatively prosperous with the third-highest per capita income in Latin America, according to the World Bank, contrast with the rest of the region. Latin America has just 8% of the world’s population but has accounted for nearly a third of all Covid-19 deaths. Vaccination efforts rolled out slowly, hampered by limited supplies and corruption scandals that have sparked resignations of public officials and criminal investigations.

About 4% of Brazil’s 210 million people have gotten the first doses, which health officials said helped little as a new, more contagious variant spread, killing record numbers of people. Domestic political crises in Peru and Venezuela delayed vaccine procurement talks. Colombia, a country of 50 million and the last of the region’s major economies to receive vaccines, had administered 360,000 doses as of Tuesday.

What can other countries learn from Chile’s success with vaccination?

Chile, meanwhile, has 10 million vaccines, with agreements signed to receive more than enough to vaccinate the 15 million that health authorities say is needed to reach herd immunity.

Unlike in several South American countries, Chile faced less political squabbling over the government’s handling of the crisis. And while large percentages of people elsewhere have been reluctant to get vaccinated, in Chile only 10% were hesitant, according to a recent poll by the Santiago-based pollster, Cadem.

Among those recently inoculated was Edith Fuentealba, a 68-year-old homemaker. “I’m the kind of person who gets goosebumps just thinking about a needle,” said Ms. Fuentealba, describing her fear of the vaccine. But Ms. Fuentealba said she went last month to Santiago’s Bicentennial Stadium, one of a host of public spaces converted into vaccination centers, to get her first jab.

She is now preparing to receive her second dose next week. “Now I’m not even worrying,” she said.

Though Chile has logged 21,000 deaths and nearly 900,000 coronavirus cases, the progress with vaccinations have been a bright spot in a country that in late 2019 was upended by mass protests against the conservative government of President Sebastián Piñera.

One or more doses

Next month, Chileans will elect the 155 members to an assembly that will draft a new charter to meet widespread demands for more social reforms and worker rights. A recent poll by Cadem shows that Chileans widely approve of the government’s handling of the pandemic and more people are optimistic about the future than pessimistic.

Not everyone, though, is pleased by the government’s performance. “That the government is having success with the vaccines isn’t going to change the malaise, nor the social uproar,” said Matias Jara, a 29-year-old medical resident. Mr. Jara has already received two vaccine doses, for which he credits the country’s primary healthcare network and 60-year history of mass immunizations.

Jaime Mañalich, a physician who had served as Chile’s health minister until June, said the success of the vaccination rollout shows that the Chilean system works and that wholesale changes to the economic model should be avoided.

“The pandemic has given us a chance to reflect and I think we should be trying to preserve the institutions,” Mr. Mañalich said. He said the country benefited from a “big bet” by sealing and paying in advance for pharmaceutical contracts, before any guarantees of a viable vaccine.

“We knew from the get-go that we were going to have to sign things that will have uncomfortable parts,” said Mr. Mañalich, referring to vaccine prices that are “difficult to swallow.” “But we had to reach for all of the tools possible to beat the virus.”