Chile launches first COVID-19 vaccination campaign in South America following Pfizer doses

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile, the first country in South America to start vaccinating against COVID-19, began inoculating on Thursday after receiving its first 10,000 doses from Pfizer-BioNtech.

FILE PHOTOS: A health worker in personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a woman from a woman for a rapid test for COVID-19, at a testing site that is temporarily on the coastal edge of the beach, during an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Vina del Mar, Chile, December 20, 2020. REUTERS / Rodrigo Garrido / Image file

Specialist nurse Zulema Riquelme, 46, a 26-year-old veteran at a public hospital in a poor part of the capital, is the first Chilean to receive the vaccine.

She urged others to follow her example, although a survey by local firm Cadem showed that only 36% were willing to receive a bullet immediately, and 22% said they would never want to.

“I understand that people are suspicious because it’s something new, but you have to have faith and trust,” she said.

Mexico received 3,000 doses of the vaccine on Wednesday; Costa Rica was due to receive doses of Pfizer on Thursday, while Argentina was expecting the first doses of Russian Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine on the same day.

Doses of Chile arrived at Santiago Airport from Pfizer’s production center in Belgium, just before 7 a.m. local time (1000 GMT) on Christmas Eve, according to the presidency.

The consignment contained two small boxes, each packed with 23 kg (50 lbs) of dry ice to keep at ultra-cold temperatures and 13 kg of syringes filled with vaccine.

The boxes were transferred by police helicopter to the logistics center in the capital.

Chile has vaccine agreements with AstraZenec, Pfizer and Sinovac and is part of the global COVAX vaccine distribution scheme. Chilean Health Minister Enrique Paris said he expects Pfizer to send 240,000 doses in January, and the first batch of vaccines against nephews after January 20.

Authorities plan to vaccinate 80% of 19 million people in Chile in the first half of next year.

The two-dose Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine was given Thursday to health workers at a hospital in Santiago and their counterparts in the southern provinces of Araucania, BioBio and Magallanes on Christmas Day.

Reporting Aislinn Laing; Edited by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman