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Chile and COVID Vaccination: An Unexpected Success

Vaccines rolled off production lines on Dec. 13, 2020. Americans were supposed to be first in line for COVID vaccination. What went wrong?
Chile and COVID Vaccination: An Unexpected Success
Hand in surgery glove holding syringe with covid vaccine. Chilean flag in the background

If you ask most Americans what countries have been the most successful when it comes to COVID vaccination, they would probably say Israel and the US. Most Americans would be wrong! That’s because the countries that have the highest vaccination rate per 100 people are the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Uruguay, Qatar, Israel and Chile. The United States is 43rd on the NY Times list, after Curacao, Ecuador, Panama and Switzerland and just ahead of Sri Lanka. 

It comes as a shock to learn that the US lags behind in COVID vaccination. After all, Operation Warp Speed was an initiative of the Trump administration. This public-private partnership led to unprecedented innovation and distribution of COVID vaccines.

On December 8, 2020 President Trump said this about COVID vaccination:

“My Administration has initiated the single greatest mobilization in U.S. history — pioneering, developing, and manufacturing therapies and vaccines in record time.”

A press release went on to say:

  • “Today, President Trump is signing an Executive Order to ensure that the American people are first in line to benefit from United States Government COVID-19 vaccines developed or procured using taxpayer resources.
  • Under this order, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is directed to provide priority access to COVID-19 vaccines to Americans.
  • Through this action, President Trump is putting the health and safety of Americans, the viability of our economy, and the security of our Nation first.
  • The United States has led and will continue to lead the world’s public health and humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

When the first trucks pulled out of the Pfizer plant in Portage, Michigan, on December 13, 2020, it was heralded as an extraordinary accomplishment.  Why has this this initiative failed to deliver and why is the United States now so far behind other countries in its COVID vaccination efforts? We do not have good answers.

Why Is Chile’s COVID Vaccination Rate So Good?

Chile may actually be better off than the standard statistics suggest. According to the health ministry there, almost 87% of eligible adults are fully vaccinated. If true, that puts Chile about at the top of countries worldwide. The NYT reports that the U.A.E has fully vaccinated 81% of its population.

At the end of August, Israel reports (Haaretz, August 31, 2021): 

“According to the latest figures, more than 78 percent of Israelis eligible for vaccination have been inoculated.”

The Chilean success is attributed in part to an early start and a culture that embraces vaccination. The country has a history of well-organized vaccination campaigns, which they bolstered with 1400 new sites and a readily accessible national scheduling system.

Public health authorities negotiated contracts with several different vaccine suppliers so that they would not be reliant on a single manufacturer. They are already vaccinating children over the age of six and will soon be giving booster shots to people over 55. Although the Delta variant has made inroads, the country is beginning to see decreasing rates of COVID infections.

What’s Happening in New Zealand?

New Zealand was actually slow to embrace COVID vaccination. The public health initiative on this island nation was to seek a zero COVID policy. And for the most part, the country was successful. For months there were no cases of COVID. People went on about their lives without masks or many vaccinations.

The death rate from the coronavirus was the envy of the world (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center). Over the course of the pandemic, the number of deaths in New Zealand has been 0.55 per 100,000 population. In the US that number is 203 per 100,000 population. Brazil has 279 deaths per 100,000 population and Peru has 612 deaths per 100,000 population. Israel has 82 deaths per 100,000 population. That’s not as good as New Zealand but way better than the US.

New Zealand Fights Back:

To learn more about the New Zealand strategy, here is a link to our recent review. According to the latest reports, there are about a dozen new cases of COVID being reported daily in and around Auckland. The city will remain in lockdown until September 21, 2021. 

In the meantime, the country is scrambling to make COVID vaccination available to as many people as possible. The prime minister is sending out vaccine buses to reach people as fast as possible. Her theme: Vaccinate-Vaccinate-Vaccinate! Her goal: 80% vaccination rate for a first dose in one week’s time. She wants New Zealand to be the world’s leader in freedom and vaccinations.

A Kiwi Describes Her Perspective on COVID Vaccination:

Angela lives in New Zealand and provides her personal reaction to comments on this website from people who object to COVID vaccinations and lockdowns:

“I am a New Zealander and I found this article very interesting. 

“I am a bit dismayed by some of the comments. It is true we have benefited from our isolation and lack of hard borders. Our leadership has been superb. Jacinda Ardern listened to our public health experts and epidemiologists and succeeded in taking the people with her on our ‘go hard, go early’ campaign.

“We were unprepared for a pandemic and a lot of work had to be done to get our contact tracing and laboratories etc etc up to speed. Our hospitals had to be able to cope. I don’t think we ‘have kicked the can down the road’.

“The fact is we did not have early access to a vaccine so we have been slow to get that program started. However it is proceeding at breakneck speed. Currently our fully vaccinated rate is only around 29% but you will see that number rise exponentially very quickly. A high vaccination rate is the key to opening up to the world. Denmark has a 74% fully vaccinated rate – that is terrific and I wish them all the best. I hope we can exceed that.

“I would like to mention that we had great Government support for business owners and wage earners. Our economy did not tank, it is very buoyant and our unemployment rate is very low.

“I think you pose a very good question: how will you/we deal with the next pandemic? For all the people out there who are willing to sacrifice people because your liberty is your right, imagine it might be your family you are sacrificing! Is that what you want?”

Thank you, Angela. We have been amazed by how angry Americans are. Whatever happened to our spirit of cooperation? It looks like New Zealanders have adopted it and left us to quarrel. 

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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