SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said on Thursday he had spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump to seek to place his country in “pole position” to receive early access to a vaccine for the new coronavirus when one is developed.
Pinera said he and Trump discussed the “war” over medical equipment such as ventilators, and the role of American laboratories in developing therapeutic treatments for COVID-19.
“We have long been trying to put Chile in a privileged position so that when we have a vaccine that vaccine reaches Chile in a timely manner,” Pinera told a press conference in La Moneda presidential palace in the capital, Santiago.
He said his government had also reached out to other countries – naming the United Kingdom and Israel – to lobby for access to an eventual vaccine.
“We have contacted the main projects… so that when that vaccine is in place, Chile will be in pole position,” he said.
The conversation reflects the intense jockeying by nations around the world for medical resources that have become scarce during the pandemic.
Other countries, including Brazil, have reported similar conversations with Trump in recent weeks as the United States seeks to rival China as a principal provider of means to fight the outbreak, which has so far claimed 256,000 lives worldwide.
Global leaders pledged in April as part of a World Health Organization initiative to accelerate work on tests, drugs and vaccines against COVID-19 and to share them around the globe, but the Trump administration did not join.
Most experts have suggested clinical trials for a safe and effective vaccine could take a minimum of 12 to 18 months.
Trump wants to speed up development of a vaccine with the goal of having 100 million doses ready by the end of 2020, a senior administration official said last week.[L1N2CH2WI]
Chile on Thursday reported 24,581 confirmed cases of the virus, and 285 deaths. It said a spike in case numbers was due to a ramping up of tests to 12,000 daily, though medical experts pointed to an elevated contagion rate.
Pinera said Chile had the lowest mortality rate from COVID-19 in all of Latin America and that Trump had praised “the way Chile is facing this double health and social pandemic.”
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Dan Grebler)