Santiago, Jan 10 (EFE).- Administration of a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine got under way Monday in Chile as the Andean nation became the second country in the world after Israel to opt for an additional booster.
The fourth dose will be available initially only to immuno-compromised individuals, but starting Feb. 7, eligibility will be expanded to anyone 55 and older who is six months out from the third injection.
“With the passage of time, the vaccines lose effectiveness, the protection they generate diminishes and the new variants also make them lose strength. And so it is very important to be prepared,” President Sebastian Piñera said.
The conservative head of state, whose term ends March 11, said that a fourth dose increases protection by a factor of 20.
Chile had managed to bring the pandemic under control after a surge in March-June 2021 that saw a return to lockdowns for more than 90 percent of the population.
But increased travel and socializing over the Christmas holidays and the arrival of the more contagious – but apparently less lethal – Omicron variant of the virus have spurred a new wave.
Last Saturday, the number of new cases in a 24-hour period topped 4,000 for the first time in seven months.
The virus has claimed more than 39,200 lives in this nation of 19.2 million people, while total confirmed cases stand at 1.8 million.
Piñera said it was “probable” that Chile will soon see new infections exceed 10,000 a day, higher than in any previous wave.
“The most important thing is that those infections are going to be milder and, therefore, the number of people who require hospitalization probably will also increase, but much less,” the president said.
Chile has had one of the world’s most successful inoculation campaigns, with more than 92 percent fully vaccinated (two doses) and 11.3 million having had a booster shot.
On Jan. 1, a regulation took effect requiring proof of a third dose to enter bars and restaurants, putting pressure on the 1.6 million eligible Chileans who have yet to get a third shot.
Israel began administering a fourth dose on Jan. 2 and the Dominican Republic is planning to do so in the coming weeks. Germany and the United Kingdom are among other countries contemplating such a move.
The director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has criticized nations for offering a fourth dose when 109 countries lack the vaccine to meet the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of their populations by the middle of this year.
“The essence of the disparity is that some countries are moving toward vaccinating citizens a fourth time, while others haven’t even had enough regular supply to vaccinate their health workers and those at most risk,” Tedros said last week.
Piñera, pointing to Chile’s donations of vaccine and other medical supplies to neighboring countries such as Paraguay and Ecuador, “has always been ready to collaborate, but the responsibility of a president is first to protect his own compatriots.” EFE