SANTIAGO (REUTERS) - The Chilean health regulator has approved for emergency use the Covid-19 vaccine from US drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, paving the way for the first doses to be administered as early as Christmas to citizens over the age of 16.
The Institute of Public Health (ISP) received the Pfizer request for approval on Nov 27, and a panel of experts was convened to analyse the vaccine data supplied by the US drugmaker.
"This month a plane with the first 20,000 doses of vaccines will land in Chile, allowing us to immediately start vaccinating all who work in the intensive care units of our health system in the regions with the highest incidence of coronavirus," President Sebastian Pinera said in a televised address.
"In January we will continue to receive new doses of vaccines with the aim of vaccinating critical and higher risk populations during the first quarter of 2021, and continuing with other groups during the first half of the year," he said.
Chile has signed a purchase agreement for 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, enough to inoculate 5 million people. The vaccine is administered in two doses three weeks apart.
Chile's health minister Enrique Paris said over the weekend the country was logistically prepared to begin administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as soon as it was approved and available. Chilean media reports this week suggested an initial batch of around 30,000 doses could arrive in as little as eight days, and be administered on Dec 24 and 25, though the health ministry declined to confirm the reports.
Paris told Reuters last month the Pfizer vaccine would be used in the first three months of 2021 to vaccinate five million people from among Chile's most "susceptible" populations, including health workers, prison officers, prisoners, armed forces and people in old age homes. He added that he hopes to have 80 per cent of Chile's population of 18 million vaccinated by the end of the first half of 2021.
Chile has also secured a deal for 14.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and incorporated a clause into its agreement for the Sinovac vaccine trial the country is hosting for preferential purchase of 20 million doses, rising to 60 million doses over three years.
It also has signed up to have access to 7.6 million vaccine doses through the global vaccine distribution scheme Covax, co-led by the Gavi vaccines alliance and the World Health Organisation.
The country is currently reporting more than 1,000 new cases a day, and has a total of 576,731 confirmed cases and 15,959 deaths from the disease.