Coronavirus Cases Are Surging In Chile Even Though It Has One Of The Highest Vaccination Rates In World

(Photo by JAVIER TORRES/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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Chile has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world, even higher than developed countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and nearly all of Europe, but coronavirus cases there aren’t falling.

Instead, Chile is experiencing a massive surge in infections, with new daily cases more than doubling over the course of the last two months. The disconnect between vaccinations and infections may come down to the efficacy, or lack thereof, of the Chinese vaccine being used in the country.

Chile has administered 69 doses per 100 people of COVID-19 vaccines, 93% of which are coming from China. Those Chinese doses are primarily the CoronaVac vaccine from privately-owned Chinese firm Sinovac.

Questions have been asked about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines since the day they were developed. Trials have come to wildly varied conclusions on just how much they work: researchers in Turkey found an 83% efficacy rate, but others in Brazil reported just about 50% effectiveness.

A University of Chile study found the CoronaVac vaccine 56.5% effective two weeks after the second dose is administered, drastically lower than the three vaccines approved for use in the United States, which are nearly 100% effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. (RELATED: Less Than 0.01% Of Vaccinated Americans Reportedly Later Contracted COVID-19)

Perhaps more importantly, the study found that the vaccine is only 3% effective after the first dose is given. This is a critical difference from Western-developed vaccines like the ones made by Pfizer and Moderna, which provide substantial protection even when the second dose has yet to be given.

That very well may be the chink in Chile’s pandemic armor. 40% of Chileans have received at least one vaccine dose, but less than 30% are fully vaccinated, according to CNN.

China has pushed back against concerns about the efficacy of its vaccines, but final, comprehensive trial data for CoronaVac has not been made publicly available. Earlier in April, China’s CDC director Gao Fu admitted that his country’s vaccines aren’t working as well as they need to be, before later backtracking: “We will solve the issue that current vaccines don’t have very high protection rates.”

The lack of clarity about whether or not their vaccines actually work hasn’t stopped the Chinese Communist Party from taking a victory lap for their efforts to vaccinate the world. Both China and Russia have waged an aggressive campaign of vaccine diplomacy, sending millions of doses to developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia that have received little-to-no help from Western powers. (RELATED: China Offers To Vaccinate All Olympic Athletes Ahead Of Beijing, Tokyo Games)

The World Health Organization has gone as far as to praise China for its efforts, while excoriating the U.S. and others who have prioritized vaccinated their own populations first.