The Chilean government’s mass COVID-19 vaccination plan, which has already inoculated more than 5.5 million people, has extended to Antarctica with the vaccination of 48 people working at the country’s bases on the continent.
Victor Videla, captain and doctor of the Chilean Air Force’s President Eduardo Frei Montalva base, told Xinhua that the vaccines arrived on March 13 by air from Punta Arenas, the closest Chilean city.
On March 14, 48 CoronaVac vaccine doses from the Chinese laboratory Sinovac were administered to members of the Chilean Armed Forces, the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation of the South American country.
Videla, who provides medical services for personnel at the bases 24 hours a day, stressed that no one reported any severe adverse effects.
“We are relieved,” he said, since “the sanitary protocols of things and people that come here are very rigorous and strict.”
Anyone arriving at the base must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken less than 72 hours before the trip and undergo at least two weeks of quarantine, he explained.
Chile’s mass vaccination plan has involved going to such rugged and inhospitable areas as a result of the geographical heterogeneity of the country. It was quite a feat in Antarctica because it occurred in the midst of the icy environment characteristic of the continent.
Among the vaccinated is Marcela Andrade, head of infrastructure at INACH’s Professor Julio Escudero base, where she is the only woman of the six staff members.
“It is very important for us to obtain this vaccine, especially since we thought we wouldn’t be able to, because we know that this virus is spreading and mutating,” she told Xinhua, adding that she was grateful, happy and felt more relieved.
On Dec. 22, the Chilean Army confirmed 26 military personnel and 10 civilians doing maintenance work at the Antarctic base tested positive for COVID-19.
“As you know, there were infections here, and everything was handled very quickly. There was an aerial evacuation to Punta Arenas of the infected with the support of the Chilean Air Force,” Andrade said, noting that any outbreak in the territory is complicated because there are no daily flights.
“That’s why it’s important to emphasize self-care and the continuation of (preventive) measures. We still have no contact with other bases, even though we are all living in the same location,” she said.
According to the latest report, Chile is one of the countries that have the highest vaccination rate with a total of 5.58 million inoculated. Of these, 2.8 million have received their second dose.
On Monday, the Health Ministry reported that 938,094 cases have so far been reported nationwide with 22,359 deaths.