In reports, analyzes, photos, videos and podcasts, we report around the world on social injustices, societal developments and promising approaches to global problems.
A couple of weeks ago it was Chile for its vaccination campaign Internationally celebrated, the Latin American country at times vaccinated faster than any other in the world. The Chileans saw themselves on the road to success in the fight against the corona pandemic. At the same time, the number of cases rose rapidly.
The health expert Soledad Martínez warned even then that the self-proclaimed "world vaccination champion" was about to lose everything in the 87th minute.
MIRROR: We recently talked about the Chilean vaccination campaign, which received much attention. How is the situation now?
Martínez: The situation is very worrying. We have more Covid deaths than ever before in the entire pandemic. There are no more free intensive care beds, although we tripled their number last year. It can be said that our health system has collapsed. In addition, the patients in the intensive care units are significantly younger. Doctors have to decide on a daily basis who can be cared for and who can no longer. Older people are more likely to die at home.
MIRROR: How could this happen?
Martínez: It is the result of various factors. We health experts have always warned against lifting social distancing measures too quickly just because certain risk groups are vaccinated. Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. Politicians have sent the wrong messages. It even went so far that travel was allowed and the airlines started major tourism campaigns here - including offers for cheap holidays in Brazil. Completely insane. And people did that.
MIRROR: And did you bring the highly infectious Brazilian P1 Corona variant with you from your vacation?
Martínez: In any case, P1 has now spread in Chile. We do not know what percentage of new infections occur with this variant because we do not have any data on it. We assume it is dominant because P1 is far more infectious, spreading rapidly, and it also appears to be more aggressive and dangerous to younger people. But research is still largely in the dark at this point.
MIRROR: Around 26 percent of all Chileans are fully vaccinated, twelve percent have received the first dose. It is currently the turn of the mid-40s - but none of that seems to be of much help. Chile inoculates Sinovac's vaccine. Recently, a senior Chinese state official admitted that the vaccination was not particularly effective, But then rowed back again. What are your experiences?
Martínez: We have known for a long time that Sinovac prevents severe courses very well. But we also know that infection and transmission of the virus are possible despite the vaccination. That wasn't a surprise to us. Of course, this makes a big difference compared to Israel, for example, which has vaccinated its population with the Biontech / Pfizer vaccine, which prevents infections much better. Sinovac, on the other hand, apparently works well against the P1 variant, there is new data on this. It is based on an old technology and works with dead virus. There are indications that the vaccine protection could be a little more robust against the new mutants. Vaccines based on mRNA technology, such as those from Biontech or Moderna, target the virus' spike protein. However, this can evidently change very quickly through mutations. Israeli herd immunity is therefore only a snapshot. Israel has hardly had any P1 cases so far, but that will not stay that way - unless the country seals itself off permanently and completely.
MIRROR: What follows from this?
Martínez: Vaccinations help, but they are not the answer on their own. Especially not if the infection rate remains so high in one's own country but also worldwide that new mutants are constantly developing. If you only partially vaccinate populations and then halt the campaign, a dangerous situation arises: the virus then lives under increased evolutionary pressure, which favors the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. The virus is looking for biological niches. We do not know what the next mutants will look like, whether they bypass vaccination protection or perhaps affect more children for whom there are no vaccines yet.
MIRROR: For about three weeks now, Chile has once again been in a very strict lockdown with curfews. The schools and borders are closed. Do you think that's right?
Martínez: After all, people are allowed to leave the house between six and nine in the morning to do sports outdoors.
MIRROR: That doesn't really sound like a lot of freedom.
Martínez: There is no getting around the fact that we contain the infection rate in our country and keep it low. But it is now also completely clear that a regional and ultimately global strategy is needed. If we really want to get this pandemic under control, then we must also help our neighbors and other countries control the virus. We may not all be in the same boat, but we are swimming in the same ocean.
MIRROR: In Germany So-called vaccination privileges are discussed, the vaccinated should be allowed to lead a largely normal life. What do you make of it?
Martínez: To be honest: very little. We don't know if these people actually can't pass the virus on. With the Biontech vaccination, it looks like it at the moment - for the wild type. But what about the mutants? We basically have new pandemics all the time. Now we have something like Covid 21. I would strongly warn against relying on vaccination protection across the board and throwing other measures overboard. There is also the risk of a black market for vaccination cards. We have already seen this in negative air travel PCR tests.
MIRROR: Does that mean we have to adjust to a life in permanent lockdown?
Martínez: That would be fatal. Permanent lockdowns are unhealthy and grueling. I'm a good example: last year I was almost only at home and gained ten kilos. You move a lot less, and the food comes out of boredom or tension. However, a weight gain of ten kilos alone can significantly increase the risk of severe corona disease - quite apart from other risks. In the permanent lockdown, people also lose hope and trust in politics at some point. They just don't take part anymore.
MIRROR: What could a solution look like?
Martínez: What works better are isolated hard lockdowns lasting around 14 days. You have to be able to reduce the number of cases so much that it is possible to know the individual corona cases and understand chains of infection. Tracking, testing, strict quarantine rules for contact persons of infected people and for immigrants, including monitoring. Basically you would have to establish something worldwide New Zealand, Australia and some Asian countries have made it. Only then will we be able to live a largely normal life for the foreseeable future. The vaccinations alone will not be enough.
This contribution is part of the Global Society project
Reporters report under the title Global Society Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe - about injustices in a globalized world, socio-political challenges and sustainable development. The reports, analyzes, photo series, videos and podcasts appear in the international section of SPIEGEL. The project is long-term and will be supported for three years by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
You will find a detailed FAQ with questions and answers about the project here..
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is supporting the project for three years with a total of around 2,3 million euros.
Yes. The editorial content is created without the influence of the Gates Foundation.
Yes. Big European media like “The Guardian” and “El País” have set up similar sections on their news sites with “Global Development” and “Planeta Futuro” with the support of the Gates Foundation.
In recent years, SPIEGEL has already implemented two projects with the European Journalism Center (EJC) and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: The "Expedition the day after tomorrow" about global sustainability goals and the journalistic refugee project "The New Arrivals", in the course of which several award-winning multimedia reports on the topics of migration and flight were created.