Magic bullet?

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Chile despite vaccination progress.

Chile was the first country in South America to begin vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19 and has been widely praised for its pragmatic inoculation drive.

More than 5,300,000 Chileans have been vaccinated with at least one dose, which represents around 40% of the target population. However, on Friday, March 19, there were more than 7,000 new cases of confirmed infections, which is the highest number since the pandemic began in Chile at the beginning of 2019.

According to an advisor to the Ministry of Health, “There is no consensus yet around the causes of the increase in infections and there are many possible explanations. Our vaccination rates are among the highest in the world, but the same is not true for case tracking, where there have been organisational deficiencies and problems. Additionally, the compliance of citizens is worsening, with many people tired of the restrictions after 12 months of confinement and limitations. Deficiencies in monitoring and control could be explained by the political weakness of the government, which has been opposed by Congress in numerous bills related to public order.”

“There is no consensus yet around the causes of the increase in infections and there are many possible explanations.”

Advisor to the Ministry of Health, Chile

Despite these challenges, Chile did manage to procure vaccines effectively. According to an advisor to the Ministry of Foreign affairs, “The key to our success was to start early and develop novel and innovative approaches to negotiations. Our team was led by people who were more technical than political and who had vast experience of commercial negotiations.”

“The key to our success was to start early and develop novel and innovative approaches to negotiations.”

Advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chile

Chile also benefited from a small total population of 19 million people which allowed the government to acquire vaccines from all major providers, Pfizer-BioNTech; AstraZeneca; Johnson & Johnson; and CoronaVac and quickly meet the demand of its population.

Thus, starting early and having open ongoing negotiations with different pharma providers with diplomatic support played in Chile’s favour. Rodrigo Yáñez, deputy secretary of International Economic Relations who managed the international vaccine acquisition negotiation process, claims that, at the end of 2020, he held daily and weekly calls with pharmaceutical companies to know the status of the development of the vaccine and sent public officials to check on the production process.

However, despite the swift vaccine rollout programme, Chile is seeing an alarming raise of infections. Consequently, on 17 March the government decided to impose new lockdowns in the most affected regions, affecting one third of the country’s population, and there are rumours of a potential postponement of the 11 April municipal elections.

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