By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile received a first shipment of almost two million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by China's Sinovac on Thursday and plans to roll it out across the country from the middle of next week.
The batch of 1,919,800 doses of the two-dose vaccine arrived at the capital Santiago's international airport early in the morning. A second, similarly-sized shipment will arrive on Sunday, said Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, who was there to receive the drugs.
The Sinovac vaccine was approved by Chile's health regulator for emergency use on Jan. 20, with the caveat it not be used for people over the age of 60.
But the health ministry said on Wednesday that the age limit could be ignored after a clinical trial that started in November at Chile's Catholic University indicated no difference in safety or efficacy among younger and older participants.
"Adverse effects are minimal in adults older than 60 years and preliminary immune response data are very positive," Health Minister Enrique Paris said.
Chile began vaccinating health workers using the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Christmas Eve, and aims to vaccinate its at-risk population of approximately 5 million people between February and March and its target population of about 15 million people within the first six months of the year.
"The vaccination plan of our government is very ambitious," said Pinera. "We have an extraordinarily demanding and challenging period ahead of us that will require a huge effort."
The Chilean government part-funded the Sinovac trial, with 650 volunteers enrolled so far, and has ordered 60 million doses of the drug for delivery to its 19 million people over the next three years.
Chilean regulators earlier this week also authorized the distribution of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.
In addition to the already approved vaccines, Chile has a prior agreement to purchase 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine and is subscribed to the COVAX global distribution scheme to receive another 7.6 million.
(Reporting by Natalia Ramos, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)