By Aislinn Laing and Natalia A. Ramos Miranda
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's health regulator on Wednesday approved the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use among its population by a unanimous vote of its advisory board.
The vaccine has previously been approved by international regulators including in the UK, South African and Argentina.
The approval from the Chilean Public Health Institute (ISP) is for use for Chileans over the age of 18 and without an upper age limit.
Heriberto Garcia, director of the Public Health Institute (ISP), said the approval of the AZ drug - which is also undergoing late-stage human trials in Chile - came in addition to similar drugs developed by Pfizer/BioNtech and Sinovac.
"This action reinforces a COVID-19 vaccination plan whose purpose is to protect the population and prevent serious cases of the disease," he said.
Chile originally had a pre-deal to purchase 14.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine but last week President Sebastian Pinera said the country had eventually signed to buy 4 million doses. Chile's health ministry declined to give further details on why Chile did not buy the original quantity agreed.
The country began vaccinating frontline health workers on Christmas Eve with doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech drug.
Chile also has an agreement to purchase 10.1 million doses of the Sinovac drug over three years, a pre-deal to buy 4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and has signed up to receive 7.6 million other vaccines through the global distribution initiative COVAX.
The country aims to vaccinate its at-risk population of 5 million by the end of March and up to 80% of its target population in the first half of the year.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Natalia Ramos, Editing by William Maclean)