Chile’s Piñera receives 4th vaccine dose amid Omicron surge

Santiago, Feb 7 (EFE).- Outgoing Chilean President Sebastian Piñera on Monday received his fourth dose of anti-Covid-19 vaccine amid a surge in infections from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus that is bringing caseloads to levels never seen before since the pandemic hit in early 2020.

“The Omicron wave is causing devastating effects all over the world. There are days and weeks when more than 20 million people are being infected around the world,” said the conservative leader.

Chileans over age 55 who had their last vaccine injection more than six months ago are being called starting Monday to get a fourth booster shot now that healthcare workers and immuno-compromised people have been boosted, a program that was undertaken in January.

Chile thus becomes one of the first countries to provide mass fourth-dose inoculations, after Israel led the way in that regard starting on Jan. 2.

According to the Chilean Health Ministry, the effectiveness of the initial vaccine injections diminishes with time, both in terms of providing protection against Covid-19 and in preventing more serious health effects if one does become infected, and the fourth dose “increases by 20 times the protection a person has with respect to another person who has not completed his vaccination regimen.”

“We hope that this wave of Omicron, which is at its highest levels in Chile, will soon – very soon – start to fall and will allow us to better get back our (daily) lives,” said the president, who on March 11 will hand over power to leftist President-elect Gabriel Boric.

Piñera, 72, got his vaccination at a public health center in the town of Futrono, in the Los Rios region, 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Santiago, where he is spending a few days on vacation.

Chile has undertaken one of the world’s most successful anti-Covid inoculation campaigns, with more than 92 percent of its population of 19 million people having completed their one- or two-dose vaccine regimen and more than 12.5 million booster shots already administered.

The vaccine most in use in Chile is CoronaVac, manufactured by China’s Sinovac laboratory, although to a lesser degree Pfizer-BioNtech, AstraZeneca and Cansino are being administered, and the Public Health Institute last week approved the emergency use of the Moderna vaccine.

Chile, which since the start of the pandemic has registered 2.3 million Covid infections and almost 40,000 deaths, last Friday broke its daily new-case record with 37,468 cases detected, and for some days now it has been showing a nationwide positive test rate of about 24 percent, indicating that an infection wave is in full swing.

Despite the explosive increase in the Covid caseload, the government is not intending to implement new restrictions, except for reducing the mass gathering sites in the country’s most affected regions, because pressure on the hospital network continues to be very low, meaning that – although the gross number of infections is high – the number of people requiring hospitalization as a result remains relatively low.

EFE mmm/laa/bp

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