SANTIAGO, April 21 (Reuters) - Chile is shifting its
COVID-19 vaccination strategy toward issuing second doses, while
slowing administration of new shots, due to concerns over supply
shortages and data showing scant protection from one dose of the
Sinovac Biotech vaccine that formed the backbone of its
The Andean nation, which has had one of the world's leading
COVID-19 vaccination programs, has put more than 13 million
shots into arms, and by Monday had about 2 million doses left in
its warehouses, according to official figures.
At present, clinics are doling out an average of 153,000
vaccinations per day - well below March levels - as Chile aims
to reach 15 million people, about 80% of its target population,
and generate some level of herd immunity by mid-year.
That involves getting 2.3 million more people vaccinated
with second doses of either of the two vaccines currently being
used in Chile - from China's Sinovac and Pfizer Inc -
and inoculating another 7.3 million people.
In recent days, however, according to Reuters witnesses,
clinics around Santiago, the capital, ran low of both vaccines,
turning people away or asking them to wait several hours until
More than 280,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot
and the first batch of 800,000 AstraZeneca Plc doses
that Chile will receive from the COVAX vaccine program are due
to arrive in the coming week, the government said.
Beyond that, Chile is working to firm up other supply deals
to keep its vaccination program on track.
The country is due 700,000 remaining doses from the 14.2
million it ordered of Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine, which helped
drive a mass inoculation campaign launched in February that has
become the envy of Latin America.
Chile is waiting on just shy of 8 million Pfizer/BioNTech
doses from a supply deal for more than 10 million. The
government said the bulk would be delivered before the end of
September, but could not provide fixed delivery dates.
Health Minister Enrique Paris said a strict vaccination
calendar according to age groups was drawn up weekly to ensure
Chile did not use up its supply before more arrived.
"I think we have to remain calm about this," Paris told
reporters at a briefing on Monday. "We have a load of agreements
with many different companies and the vaccines will keep
Chile, which was vaccinating up to 430,000 people a day in
March, has reached more than 50% of the 15 million people it
aims to vaccinate by July with a single shot, while 36% have
received both doses.
However, the country was hit by a second coronavirus wave in
March with the end of the southern hemisphere summer holidays
and more contagious virus variants first discovered in the UK
and Brazil circulating.
Santiago and swathes of the country are under strict
lockdown, with around 7,000 confirmed new COVID-19 cases
reported each day.
'COULD BE MUCH WORSE'
Unlike nations that are extending the gap between first and
second doses to get more people some protection, Paris said
Chile is now prioritizing second doses over firsts. The country
aims to administer 760,000 second shots this week because of
data showing a single dose of the Sinovac shot provides little
Chile published its own analysis of the limited efficacy of
Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine on its population last week. The
shot was only 16% effective in preventing infection and 36%
effective at keeping people out of the hospital after one dose.
"If we don't administer the second dose, the situation could
be much worse," Paris said.
By comparison, the risk of infection fell by 80% two weeks
or more after the first Pfizer/BioNTech shot, according to the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to the first AstraZeneca doses expected to
arrive through COVAX, the health minister said Chile has signed
a deal to buy 1.8 million doses of a single-shot vaccine from
Rodrigo Yanez, the Chilean trade vice minister in charge of
acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines, told Reuters on Friday that
the nation's rapid inoculation campaign made it "an attractive
springboard" for vaccine manufacturers to test their wares. He
said he was confident he could keep the supply taps open.
Yanez said his team was pushing Sinovac to deliver another 4
million doses, and that the first of 4 million doses purchased
directly from AstraZeneca should begin arriving in May.
He said Chile was also speaking to Sinopharm and India about
acquiring a supply of its Covaxin vaccine, and was in "advanced"
talks with the Russian Direct Investment Fund to buy 5 million
doses of the Sputnik V vaccine for delivery this year or next.
"We were planning to have different vaccines phasing in and
out," Yanez said, adding that Pfizer will be prevalent in the
program. "We are confident and positive we can reach herd
immunity by the middle of the year."
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing
Editing by Bill Berkrot)