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JUNE 6, 2022

[INTERVIEW] Public Health Undersecretary: “We work a lot in the field, so that false or incomplete information can be counteracted”

Cristóbal Cuadrado highlighted the importance of the “Ponte al Día” (Get up to Date) plan to promote vaccination, provided details about the arrival of a fifth wave in Chile and gave his opinion on the role played by blocking the Pase de Movilidad (Mobility Pass). 

Chile’s Government is involved in an intense campaign called “Ponte al Día”, which aims to promote vaccination and keep inoculation schemes up to date in order to keep the coronavirus pandemic under control. 

Public Health Undersecretary Cristóbal Cuadrado recognized that the population has played a key role and that, in general, people have responded in an exemplary manner to the calls of the authorities. However, he calls for people not to lower their guard and continue respecting the vaccination schedules as well as all self-care measures like proper facemask use. 

Some of the topics addressed by the Undersecretary are the role played by blocking the Pase de Movilidad, the importance of the Moderna vaccine, the possible arrival of a fifth wave and preparation for winter. 

- What would be your assessment of the Government’s vaccination strategy? 

- Since we took office on March 11, the immunization program has continued in all corners of the country. In fact, no other country in the world is administering as many daily vaccine doses as Chile, which has taken place alongside a successful influenza vaccination campaign. We have seen a significant increase in vaccination in recent weeks; for example, during the last two weeks, more than one million people were vaccinated against SARSCoV2 each week, the highest number of booster doses since the strategy began. We are very happy with this effort that people have put in to keep up to date with their respective scheme. 

- To what do you attribute the high level of interest that has been generated to get vaccinated these last few weeks? 

- We believe that people have become increasingly aware of the importance of vaccination, both to protect themselves and their loved ones. We have added measures that serve as an incentive, like adding a fourth dose, as a requirement for the Pase de Movilidad, but education has been key to understanding that, beyond this document, the health of the population is fundamental. 

- How are you communicating risk, in this regard? 

- As Minister Yarza has mentioned previously, we are communicating risk through education and getting people to know and keep applying the appropriate protection measures for each situation. It is important to always reinforce the message that the pandemic is not over. We highlight this in every COVID address, which now takes place on Fridays as well as Tuesdays. We report the current situation of the virus and the measures we are taking as part of the “Seguimos Cuidándonos, Paso a Paso” (Let’s Keep Taking Care of Each Other, Step by Step) plan. We also continue to go out into the field to supervise vaccination operations, oversee large-scale events, educate about the importance of wearing a facemask and talk to people who may have doubts about things. It is important to be out in the field explaining things. 

- In general, from what you have perceived, is the population complying with the authorities’ health instructions? 

- Most people have made a great effort throughout the pandemic and today they continue to practice protection measures; for example, the continuing widespread use of facemasks outside. Likewise, most people are up to date with their vaccination schedule. In any case, we will keep reinforcing prevention messages. 

- The Ministry has a strategy to reinforce vaccination, the “Ponte al Día” plan. What specific measures are being taken in this regard?

- On the Health Ministry website, we recently created the list of all the country’s COVID vaccination points, with geo-references, available to the public. There are 1,225 throughout the country and more than 200 in the Metropolitan Region. We are working to encourage vaccination and bring the process closer to schoolchildren and workers through an outreach program. This outreach is being developed both at the central level and through primary care throughout the country; this is why we are also working on an agreement with different mutual societies. Finally, we have seen an increase in the people’s interest to get up to date, especially after the announcement that the fourth dose will be a requirement to access the Pase de Movilidad from June 1. We have also instructed municipalities to always have a COVID vaccination point that is open until 8.30pm, which are in addition to the hundreds of points open every weekend, even on Sundays. Vaccines are public health goods, free for the entire population, which must be available to everyone. 

- There is a lot of uncertainty about the possible arrival of a fifth coronavirus wave. Is it already here? Should we be worried? What measures should people take? 

- We are always busy working, even if cases are not showing an increase. The recommendation is always to maintain the self-care measures that we already know about: wearing a facemask, avoiding crowds, getting vaccinated and ventilating spaces. For a few weeks, we have been observing an increase in cases that is consistent with the 2022 winter wave that we expected. We have prepared for it with high vaccination coverage, stepping up education for the population, high availability of early diagnosis tests and strengthening the health system to face an eventual increase in cases. 

- There are people who have been somewhat reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine; however, it is a vaccine that has been used in many developed countries and has passed exhaustive quality controls. What message would you send to people in this regard? 

- All vaccines approved and administered in Chile go through an exhaustive process of analysis in which the laboratory must provide studies and background information regarding their efficacy and safety. The Moderna vaccine, in particular, has shown an effectiveness of 87.4% in reducing the risk of becoming ill, 95.8% in reducing hospitalization, and 97.9% in reducing the risk of death from COVID-19. This makes it one of the most effective vaccines available throughout the world as a tool against Coronavirus. This is the reason why many countries like the United Kingdom or the United States have used it as the main vaccine within their immunization programs. The Moderna vaccine may produce a little more temporary discomfort, especially in the arm where it is administered, but that is because it consists of a lipid formula that means it takes longer to dissolve in the body, somewhere between 24 and 48 hours. 

- How are you dealing with the misinformation that can often be seen on social networks regarding the vaccination process? 

- Our advice is to always look for information on official channels. We are always working to make experts, and those with a vested interest, available to citizens, to give them the information and background on which decisions are made. For this reason, we also work a lot in the field, so that false or incomplete information can be counteracted with the first-hand experience of those who turn up to be vaccinated. 

- Regarding the opening of vaccine centers on weekends, what measures are being taken? How can people find out about places and times? 

- On the Health Ministry website, we recently created the list of all the country’s COVID vaccination points, with geo-references, available to the public. There are 1,225 throughout the country, and more than 200 in the Metropolitan Region. Likewise, the Regional Offices of the Health Ministry (SEREMIs) publish which centers are operating on weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, municipalities are also promoting “family vaccination days”. 

- How will winter and the arrival of winter illnesses affect the outlook as far as health is concerned, and what measures are being taken to avoid the possible collapse of medical facilities… 

- Diseases caused by seasonal viruses, like influenza or respiratory syncytial virus, are already here and circulating, unlike the winters of 2020 and 2021 when they hardly circulated. To prevent them, you should apply the same self-care measures as for COVID-19: washing your hands, using a facemask, social distancing, ventilating spaces and getting vaccinated, in the case of influenza. We currently have more than 300 ICU beds available, we have been strengthening the healthcare network and we have the potential to significantly increase our current capacity. And if we all keep practicing preventive measures and are up to date with our vaccinations, no one will be without a bed this winter. However, the advice is always to keep taking care of ourselves, to avoid as much as possible the drama of a serious illness, which can take someone to the ICU. 

- This June 1, the Pase de Movilidad was blocked for over-18s who did not have a fourth dose and who have gone more than six months since being inoculated with the third dose. Why did you take this measure and has it had the desired effect? 

- We decided that the fourth dose, or second booster dose, would be part of the mandatory scheme. For this reason, the Pase de Movilidad has been disabled for those who do not have this vaccine. It was necessary to include this vaccine, regardless of the document, because it is important that we all keep our protection against SARSCoV-2 active. We know from the evidence available that at six months there is a reduction in the level of protection provided by the vaccines, which is why it is so important to have our booster vaccinations up to date. You have to keep in mind that each day passes are blocked, because they depend on when each person has been vaccinated. After that announcement, a lot of people remembered that they were behind in their scheme and went to get vaccinated. That is why, for example, over the last few weeks more than a million people got vaccinated with different doses every week.