There’s a good reason why Chile is winning COVID vaccine race —and Mexico and Venezuela are not | Opinion

Though Latin America is lagging far behind the United States and Europe in getting COVID-19 vaccines to its people, one country in the region stands out for its success in obtaining vaccines ahead of its neighbors — Chile.

In fact, Chile already has surpassed China, Germany, France, Spain and many other countries in vaccinating its population.

Before we get into what Chile did right, let’s look at the data. According Oxford University’s’s daily database of COVID-19 vaccinations around the world, as of Feb. 10 Chile had administered 5.6 vaccine doses per 100 people.

By comparison, Germany has given out four vaccine doses per 100 people, China 2.8 per 100 people, Brazil 1.8 per 100 people, Argentina 1.1 per 100 people and Mexico only 0.6 per 100 people. Israel has given out the most vaccines in the world, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United states.

“Chile’s vaccination campaign is impressive!” tweeted Oxford University researcher and founder Max Roser. He added a chart showing that, if we just measure the percentage of vaccinations per population over the past week, Chile ranks No. 1 in the world, followed by the United States.

In absolute numbers, by Feb. 10, Chile had vaccinated 1.1 million people. Comparatively, Mexico, which has six times Chile’s population, has vaccinated 724,000 people, and Argentina, which as more than twice Chile’s population, has vaccinated 513,000 people, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

It’s a coincidence that Chile has been able to get so many more vaccines than its Latin American neighbors: It is, by far, the most globalized country in the region.

While several Latin American populist leaders rant against the free market and globalization, Chile — despite growing domestic protests against its economic model — has maintained its largely successful free-trade system.

Chile’s international trade connections, or at least the outward-looking mindset of its government, helped it get COVID-19 vaccines much faster than Mexico, Argentina, or Venezuela, whose inward-looking leaders barely know the outside world.

Chile’s health minister, Enrique Paris, told me in a telephone interview that his country has already signed deals to get almost 36 million vaccines for the country’ s 19 million population. They include 12 million vaccines from China’s Sinovac laboratory and millions from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

“Our goal is to have 80 percent of the eligible population vaccinated by June 30,” Paris told me.

Rodrigo Yañez, Chile’s vice minister of trade, told me that Chile was able to buy more vaccines because it started ordering them earlier than other countries. But Chile’s free-trade agreements undoubtedly helped, he added.

Chile has 29 major trade agreements, including free-trade agreements with the United States, the 28-country European Union, China, Vietnam and Australia.

“We have a huge network of international contacts,” Yañez told me. “When the pandemic started, we already had many key foreign officials in our Whatsapp apps.”

It would be simplistic to say that Chile did better because it has a center-right government, while Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela have done so badly because they have left-of-center or leftist leaders. Although it may not last — Chileans have voted massively to change their constitution, and nobody knows what the outcome of such changes will be — Chile has had forward-looking, globalized leftist governments.

Former President Ricardo Lagos, of Chile’s Socialist Party, was a champion of globalization and one of Latin America’s best presidents in recent times. Former President Michelle Bachelet, also of Chile’s Socialist Party, was somewhat less enthusiastic about the free market, but signed several free-trade agreements around the world.

Chile’s current president, Sebastian Piñera, a Harvard Ph.d. in economics and billionaire entrepreneur who already has been president from 2010 to 2014, is the epitome of a globalized leader. Like Lagos and Bachelet before him, Piñera speaks several languages and knows many world figures from even before he became a politician.

Piñera’s popularity rate in Chile plummeted last year, amid protest by Chileans demanding a larger share of Chile’s economic progress. It’s unclear whether he will regain it, but this much is clear: Fueled by its economic openness and global trade connections, Chile is winning the regional race for COVID-19 vaccines.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera