But what is happening in Chile? The country has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world (over 7 million doses administered to 18 million inhabitants, with approximately 37% of the population receiving the first dose and over 20% both), but yet the rate of new infections continues to rise.
By February 21, the weekly average had dropped to 3,322 new cases per day, at the beginning of April it exceeded 7 thousand, with peaks of over 8 thousand, never seen since the outbreak of the pandemic. So much so that the president, Sebastian Piñera, just has the vote for the Constituent Assembly postponed by 5 weeks, scheduled for Sunday. And new closures and restrictions have been imposed.
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Pascale Bonnefoy and Ernesto Londoño in the New York Times dealt with the Chilean anomaly. And what emerges is thatthe Chileans let their guard down too soon. “Nobody argues that the vaccination campaign was a success – says Francesca Crispi, regional president of the Chilean medical association to the NYT -. But he instilled in people a wrong sense of security, making believe that since we are all about to be vaccinated, the pandemic is over ».
In conclusion: vaccination is absolutely necessary, and it must be done in the shortest time possible, but attention must still remain high.
On the contrary, in Chile the reopening of restaurants, gyms, shopping centers and churches had arrived and, in January, the travel permits for the summer holidays (which in Chile coincide with our winter, ed). Finally, the reopening of schools on March 1, when there were already the first signs of a rise in infections.
Both for Crispi and for Claudia Cortés, epidemiologist at the University of Chile, vacation permits have been downright reckless: «More than four million people – explains Cortés – have traveled around the country. This has led the virus, which had been largely confined to some large areas, to spread all over the place. ” Even because there was no effective tracking system and, as also admitted by the Minister of Health, Enrique Paris, in government did not insist enough on the fact that, holidays or not, the protection and distancing measures had to continue to be respected.
Paul Nuki of the British Telegraph has also focused his eyes on the Chilean case, because it seems instructive to him when, in Great Britain – where the vaccination campaign was accompanied by a hard and prolonged lockdown, from which it is coming out very gradually – the premier Boris Johnson is accused of proceeding too “slow motion” with reopenings and experts who talk about the possible risks of a third wave are branded as Cassandras who trust their models more than real data (the most recent ones speak of 2,370 new cases in the last 24 hours and only 20 deaths). The same Telegraph dedicates a substantial article signed by Sarah Knapton to the list of all the alleged weaknesses of the forecasts of Imperial College, Warwick University and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), according to which the third wave, expected by the end of the summer, could to cause from 40,000 to almost 60,000 dead in the UK.
It may be that the experts, although illustrious, have, as Knapton argues, underestimated the effectiveness of vaccination protection, ignored the “seasonal” component (outdoors, contagion is much less likely, as confirmed by an Irish study) and gave weight to mathematical models than to real numbers. But Nuki invites us to focus our attention on one factor: the development of new variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.
By far the most widely used vaccine in Chile is Chinese Sinovac, similar in preparation and mode of action to that of AstraZeneca. And, as the latter proved less effective against the South African variant (so much so that in South Africa it is no longer used), so Sinovac’s protection would be, according to a study, only 50.65% against that Brazilian, which also spread to Chile.
Hence Nuki’s fear that the forecasts cited above may seem overly pessimistic now, butrealistic in the event of the spread of new variants that are more resistant to the vaccines available today.
In the LSHTM model, for example, AstraZeneca’s protective efficacy is assumed to be only 31% and the result would be more than a thousand deaths per day at the end of August in the UK. All this can only make us reflect on what is underlined by Alberto Mantovani, scientific director of Humanitas in Milan, in the interview granted to Luigi Ripamonti: “If we don’t get vaccines to reach low-income countries, we will be overwhelmed by variants.” In India, just to give an example, in these days the threshold of 115 thousand new cases per day and in Brazil nearly 90 thousand.
All more possibilities for the virus to mutate, as they explained Paolo Giordano(here is Sandro Modeo (here) on the Courier service.
(This article was first published in the Press Review, one of the three events of Il Punto, the newsletter that the Courier reserves for its subscribers. To register, click here)