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Chilean president says regulators okay AstraZeneca COVID vaccine trial

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By Aislinn Laing

SANTIAGO, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Wednesday the country's health regulators had given the go-ahead to a clinical trial of the AstraZeneca PLC COVID-19 vaccine.

Pinera said the AstraZeneca trial would follow one by America's Johnson & Johnson that is already underway and another by China's Sinovac, whose first vaccine doses arrived in Chile on Wednesday.

He said Chile had been working "for months" to ensure sufficient and timely access to COVID vaccines, and hoped to start rolling them out to vulnerable populations "in the first few months of next year."

"We all know that a safe, effective and readily-available vaccine to all those who need it will be a huge contribution to the fight against Coronavirus," he said.

He said Chile had signed a purchase agreement with Pfizer Inc and Germany's BioNTech SE for 10 million doses of the vaccine they are jointly developing, and was working on similar agreements with AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sinovac.

Chile's government has previously said it had reserved 14.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and incorporated a clause into its agreement for the Sinovac trial for the preferential purchase of 20 million doses. A spokesman for the health ministry did not comment on the apparent shift in agreements.

Pinera said Chile had also signed up "several weeks ago" to have access to 7.6 million vaccine doses through COVAX, an initiative led by the World Health Organisation for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of eventual vaccines.

AstraZeneca, which is developing its COVID-19 vaccine along with the University of Oxford, paused its U.S. trial on Sept. 6 after a report of a serious neurological illness, believed to be transverse myelitis, in a participant in the company’s UK trial. The trial resumed in the US on Oct. 23.

Sinovac and Janssen trials in Chile were approved by the health regulator on September 30. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by David Gregorio)