Chile’s vaccination programme reached the frozen shores of Antarctica on Wednesday, bringing relief to one of the most isolated and vulnerable outposts on Earth.
Marcela Andrade, an official with the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), told Reuters by phone that air force personnel, followed by staff at the Profesor Julio Escudero research base, were inoculated on Sunday with vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
The base is located on remote King George Island, the largest of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Antarctica.
The pandemic hit the frozen wastes of Antarctica in December, making it the last of the world’s continents to report an outbreak of Covid-19.
Andrade said the outbreak was well-managed, but a reminder of the importance of speedy vaccination in such a remote and unforgiving location.
Chilean health and army officials quickly evacuated staff from the remote region with very limited medical facilities.
“It’s a relief,” said Andrade, who said workers in the isolated region are at special risk. “We don’t have flights or ships departing every day here. It’s complicated to transport people who are ill or a risk to others.”
Andrade said a shift of workers was scheduled to leave for the mainland in mid-April and would breathe easier with the vaccine in place.
“Looking at the situation in the country, and the world, it’s a total relief to get back to the mainland with a bit of protection,” she said.
Chile has raced ahead of its Latin American neighbours with its vaccination program, and has inoculated most of its frontline health workers, military and elderly.
However, a new spike in cases country-wide has brought hospitals to near collapse and forced new restrictions.