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Chile has pandemic surge despite extensive vaccinations

Chile’s vaccination campaign against the coronavirus has been one of the world’s quickest and most extensive, but, reports CNBC, a recent surge in infections has sparked concern beyond its borders. Almost 40% of the South American country’s total population have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to statistics compiled by Our World in Data, reflecting one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Only Israel and the UK, respectively, have inoculated a larger share of their population with at least one dose.

Nonetheless, CNBC reports, Chile has endured a sharp uptick in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, even with its world-renowned vaccine rollout and strict lockdowns in place for much of its 19m inhabitants.

The Pan American Health Organisation’s regional director has since emphasised that for most countries in the region, vaccines won’t be enough to prevent rising infection rates.

Health experts say the country’s latest surge in cases has, in part, been driven by more virulent strains of the virus, a relaxation of public health measures, increased mobility and defiance of simple precautions – such as physical distancing and wearing a mask.

Chile’s centre-right government, led by President Sebastian Pinera, had ordered the closure of the country’s borders from March to November of 2020, albeit with a few exceptions, before the decision was taken to reopen them to international passengers late last year. Shops, restaurants and some holiday resorts were also opened in a bid to boost the country’s pandemic-stricken economy.

Yet, while the country’s vaccination rollout powered ahead of most, the spread of a more virulent strain of the virus – such as the P.1 variant, first discovered in travellers from Brazil – has led to a substantial rise in cases.

CNBC reports that there have also been questions raised about vaccine efficacy, given Chile’s widespread use of CoronaVac, the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by Chinese firm Sinovac. Late-stage data of China’s COVID vaccines remain unpublished, and available data of the CoronaVac vaccine is varied. Brazilian trials found the vaccine to be just over 50% effective, significantly less effective than the likes of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca, while Turkish researchers have reported efficacy as high as 83.5%.

The report says a study published by the University of Chile earlier this month reported that CoronaVac was 56.5% effective two weeks after the second doses were administered in the country. Crucially, however, they also reported that one dose was only 3% effective.

“This would help to explain why Chile – with one of the world’s most robust vaccine rollouts but 93% of the doses coming from China – has experienced a simultaneous significant expansion in cases, and a much slower decline in hospitalisations and deaths compared to the early rollouts in Israel, the UK and the US,” Ian Bremmer, president of risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said.

“I cannot stress this enough – for most countries, vaccines are not going to stop this wave of the pandemic,” Carissa Etienne, director of PAHO, said. “There are simply not enough of them available to protect everyone in the countries at greatest risk.”


Full CNBC report (Open access)

University of Chile study (Open access)

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