Chilean health regulator approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

SANTIAGO, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The Chilean health regulator has approved for emergency use the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, 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 analyze the vaccine data supplied by the U.S. drugmaker.

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% 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 Organization.

Heriberto García, director of the ISP, said the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use came with certain unspecified restrictions. “As we move forward and get more information, we will be able to expand it,” he said.

“There is a lot of important analysis to do around how we are going to conduct studies and risk analysis and drug surveillance to be able reassure the population on any questions that arise,” Garcia added.

The coronavirus landed in Chile in mid-March, with cases peaking in June and July. At present, the country is 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. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Bill Berkrot)