Hit by social unrest and a severe coronavirus outbreak, Chile hopes to turn the corner as it leaps ahead of its South American peers in the race for Covid-19 vaccines.
So far, more than 2.7 million vaccines have been administered to Chile’s 19 million population, more than in all of Africa. That has made the country one of the pioneers in the global fight for vaccines on a per capita basis, falling behind a handful of richer countries, including Israel, the UK, and the US.
Although the center-right administration of President Sebastián Piñera came under pressure after violent protests against inequality erupted in October 2019, its forward-thinking and pragmatic approach to ensuring vaccines is poised to fuel both Chile’s economic recovery and the political position of the government before the presidential elections. in November.
“This is a classic example of what happens when you have good relations with many countries in the world,” said Jorge Heine, a Chilean professor of international relations at Boston University, pointing out the large number of free trade agreements he has with countries. around. the world.
“I hope other countries learn something from this and realize that [it helps] if you go out and buy the best, you can get the best price, and you don’t have ideological blinders, “he added.
After boasting the first positive results when the crisis first struck a year ago, Chile’s death rate rose to a peak of 170 deaths per week in June. Some believe that prompted Chile’s technocratic government, which has cultivated a reputation for competent macroeconomic management, to fully focus on the vaccination campaign.
Most of the vaccines administered in Chile so far have been purchased from Sinovac of China, Chile’s largest trading partner. Some 4 million shots have already arrived from Sinovac, with another 6 million due to arrive by mid-March.
David Gallagher, Chile’s ambassador to London, helped secure vaccines for AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. He attributed much of Chile’s success to a strategy similar to that of the United Kingdom, but conceived independently in Santiago by Piñera as early as last May: hedging risks by securing a “vaccine portfolio” through bilateral agreements that were “fully free from nationalism or ideology. ” don’t give a damn ”where the vaccines were made.
“That’s what made the difference,” said the former investment banker and Oxford fellow. “Because Chile has signed so many trade agreements, no one is afraid to pick up the phone, if it is necessary to call the CEO of a pharmaceutical company, and just move on.”
In addition to having an advantage in negotiating vaccine deals, analysts also praised Chile’s foresight in organizing clinical trials in exchange for earlier delivery and reduced vaccine prices. Some vaccine producers already had good relationships with Chilean universities and hospitals before the pandemic began.
In total, Chile has commitments for many more vaccines than it needs to inoculate its entire population. A goal has been set to vaccinate 5 million people by April and 15 million, or about 80 percent of its population, by July.
But Jorge Gallardo, a medical expert in Chile involved in the approval of Sinovac, said he was concerned about the effectiveness of the Chinese jab compared to other vaccines. “Something is better than nothing in this serious situation, but there is a lot of uncertainty,” he warned.
Despite such concerns, he highlighted the efficiency of Chile’s well-established vaccine system, which has enjoyed wide acceptance among the population since it began in the 1970s.
The vaccine has been provided free of charge and priority has been given to frontline workers and the elderly. The central administration has also helped streamline the process, unlike in some countries where that has been left to local or regional officials.
Sinovac has also proven to be easier to distribute, especially to the more isolated communities in the Chilean territory, logistically complicated and unusually long, since it does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures like some other vaccines.
The vaccination campaign is expected to help the economy grow again after last year’s contraction. Chile’s economy is expected to expand 5% in 2021, after contracting nearly 6% in 2020, according to Ana Madeira, an economist at Bank of America. The world’s largest copper exporter will also be driven by the highest red metal prices in nearly a decade.
For some, the bigger question is what the successful launch of the vaccine could mean for social reconciliation in the country, where divisions have simmered since protests that erupted in 2019.
“It’s a great opportunity to heal the soul of Chile,” said Rodolfo Carter, mayor of the populous and diverse district of La Florida in southern Santiago, who installed a spacious vaccination center in a soccer stadium renamed Espacio Esperanza.
Describing a country that is “deeply hurt”, Carter argued that the vaccination process is a unique opportunity to unite a country where, despite being one of the fastest growing Latin American economies in recent decades, the Inequality remains high and much of the population complains of an out-of-touch elite.
“When you have a wealthy person sitting three feet away from someone in a poor community waiting for a vaccine, public health can restore people’s dignity,” Carter said. “We must seize this opportunity to reclaim a country where people no longer burn churches or subway stations. . . more than poking arms, it is about touching hearts “.