Chile to ramp up purchase of Sinovac vaccine, seeking deal with Johnson & Johnson

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FILE PHOTO: Vial and sryinge are seen in front of displayed Johnson&Johnson logo in this illustration taken

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile plans to ramp up its purchase of vaccines from China's Sinovac and hopes to sign a deal shortly with Johnson & Johnson, the health minister said on Monday, as the South American nation moves to strengthen its widely lauded coronavirus vaccination campaign.

Chile has jumped ahead of the rest of Latin America and many countries globally with its inoculation program. The country has already inoculated 3.35 million of its 19 million citizens against COVID-19, officials said on Monday.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said new talks with Sinovac Biotech Ltd were progressing quickly and that Chile was negotiating a "significant increase" atop the 10 million doses the Chinese pharmaceutical company had already promised the country.

Paris said officials were also discussing contract details with U.S.-based Johnson & Johnson and seeking to firm up a date for initial shipments.

"If Johnson & Johnson cannot move forward with (shipments) ... we will have to continue negotiating hard with other companies," the minister said.

The country moved fast and early to lock down vaccines, signing deals with U.S.-based Pfizer Inc , British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Sinovac.

Paris said Chile would soon receive the first batch of 890,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the global COVAX program.

Chilean Undersecretary for International Economic Relations Rodrigo Yanez told foreign correspondents later that this year's $200 million budget for vaccines would have to be expanded.

"Because of the amounts involved, the dose prices, we believe it will be over or close to $300 million," he said.

There have been 20,660 COVID-19 deaths in Chile and more than 825,000 cases.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)