Chile manages to be a global champion of COVID-19 vaccination with three times less resources than Canada and without any national vaccine production capacity.
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This Latin American country has immunized more than a third of its population by distributing 10.3 million doses to its 17 million inhabitants. Canada administered half as much while it is twice as populated.
Yet Chileans have a GDP per capita three times that of Canadians and their government spends eight times less on health.
Although the local health system is greatly privatized, immunization against the coronavirus is free, just like here.
“We are the second fastest country in the world to vaccinate, behind Israel. […] We are obviously very proud of it ”, declared the Chilean Minister of Health, Enrique Paris, to the international press at the beginning of March.
To achieve such a feat, “we started very early to negotiate contracts with several laboratories,” continued Rodrigo Yañez, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This speech closely resembles that of the Trudeau government, which repeats having “the most diverse portfolio of vaccines in the world”. On the other hand, the composition of the Chilean purchasing book is very different from ours.
Thanks to the Chinese vaccine
As in Canada, the first doses distributed in Chile in time for Christmas came from Pfizer. But now, 90% of the doses administered in this southern country come from the Chinese laboratory Sinovac, which is able to deliver the vaccines in greater quantities and more quickly than its competitor.
Mass immunization began in February.
Chileans are vaccinated at community clinics across the country and at mass vaccination centers. They show up on site without an appointment, the day their age is called. Ambulances also travel through rural areas to immunize people directly at home.
In this context, “many people thought that, as the vaccines had arrived, the problem was solved and they relaxed a lot of the measures to protect themselves”, deplores the Dre Claudia Cortés, infectious disease specialist at the University of Chile.
However, as collective immunity (80% of vaccinated at least) is still far from being reached, even in Chile, the virus continues to circulate and transform. As with us, the variants thus gained the upper hand over the original strain of the virus.
They pushed the country to the brink of health disaster within weeks. 95% of intensive care beds were occupied on 1er April, and the hospital system may not withstand the Easter holiday.
Hoping to raise the bar, the government has imposed full lockdown, without even the ability to go out on weekends to buy basic goods.
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Science from here, ceded to the Chinese, benefits this country
Chile is about to speed up its vaccination campaign with a Chinese vaccine based on Canadian technology, but Canadians do not have access to it.
Chilean President Sebastien Piñera announced on Tuesday that he had signed an agreement with CanSino that will allow him to receive 1.8 million doses in May and June.
According to pharmaceutical data, the vaccine is 90.98% effective against severe cases of COVID-19 and 65.7% effective in preventing symptomatic cases. It only requires one serving and can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celcius for three months.
“We hope that this new CanSino vaccine will be approved for emergency use by the Institute of Public Health and will be available to strengthen and accelerate the mass vaccination program, and thus reach younger generations more quickly,” said President Piñera at a press conference.
Technology from here
The Chilean media immediately insisted on the Chinese-Canadian origin of this vaccine. It is in fact based on a cell line developed with Canadian public funds.
This technology is owned by the National Research Center of Canada (NRC), a federal research organization that licensed CanSino to use in 2014.
The Chinese laboratory first used the HEK293SF-3F6 cell line to produce an Ebola vaccine, before using it to develop the one against COVID-19.
NRC announced with great fanfare on May 12, 2020 that it would work with CanSino to develop this serum in Canada. It was to be tested on Canadian volunteers, then manufactured in Montreal at the Research Council’s facilities with an investment of $ 44 million.
But Canada ultimately never received the doses that were to arrive from China to launch the trials. The agreement fell through in August 2020. It is instead in Chile that the company conducted its clinical trials.
The vaccine is currently licensed in China, Mexico, Hungary and Pakistan.
This week, the company also offered doses to COVAX and initiated discussions with the European Union, CanSino vice-president Pierre Morgon told Bloomberg.
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