Written by Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – The first 10,000 doses of ten million orders of Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Chile on Thursday, and injections of health workers in the hardest-hit sectors began immediately.
Chile is the first South American country to start vaccinating against COVID. 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 the Russian Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine on the same day.
The doses arrived at Santiago Airport from the production hub of Pfizer, Puurs, Belgium, just before 7 a.m. local time (1000 GMT) on Christmas Eve, the presidency said in a statement.
The consignment consisted of two small boxes, each packed with 23 kg (50 lbs) of dry ice, to be kept at the required ultra-cold temperatures, and 13 kg of syringes filled with vaccine.
The boxes were transferred by police helicopter to a logistics center in the capital Santiago, and vaccination should begin later in the morning.
Chile is among the Latin American countries that have entered into the most bilateral agreements with pharmaceutical companies, including deals with AstraZenec, Pfizer and Sinovac, as well as the global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX.
Authorities plan to vaccinate 80% of Chile’s 19 million population by the first half of next year.
The two-dose Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine will be dispensed on Thursday to healthcare workers at hospitals in Santiago. Health workers in the southern provinces of Araucania, BioBio and Magallanes will start getting vaccinated on Christmas.
President Sebastian Pinera said it was a “happy moment” after a difficult year in Chile, hit by intense, sometimes violent anti-government protests that began in October 2019, followed by a coronavirus outbreak in March and a related economic downturn.
Pinera said the vaccine is “free and voluntary” and has been approved by local and international health regulators. “When someone gets vaccinated, they protect not only themselves but also their loved ones, their community and the country,” he said.
(Report by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)