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By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda

SANTIAGO, Chile, Thurs. Oct. 1 2929: (Reuters) – Chilean health authorities said on Wednesday they have approved the start of clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines under development by China’s Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical unit Janssen.

The trials, authorized by Chile’s Institute of Public Health (ISP), will be conducted by government health officials and researchers from two Chilean universities, authorities said.

Pharmaceutical company AztraZeneca, whose trials are partially on hold after one of the participants fell ill, has also applied to begin studies in Chile.

Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia have had the highest rates of viral infections in South America, making them attractive testing sites for vaccine developers because it is easier to get dependable trial results in areas with high rates of active transmission and infection.

“Chile can and must participate in these clinical Phase III studies to approve, study and hopefully move forward the development of these vaccines,” Health Minister Enrique Paris told reporters.

Large-scale Phase III clinical trials can be the final step before a drug or vaccine is submitted for regulatory approval.

Paris said Chile has signed agreements with the COVAX global vaccine plan and with two laboratories “to have access to at least 34.5 million doses of vaccines once they are approved by the corresponding agencies.”

The clinical trials, which could take up to two years, will begin in about two or three weeks in the capital Santiago and other Chilean cities, authorities said.

Chile has been particularly hard hit by the virus, with more than 462,000 cases reported and 12,741 deaths from COVID-19.

(Reporting by Natalia Ramos; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Will Dunham)

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