SANTIAGO, Chile - When Chilean health authorities asked why staff in Maria Muñoz’s veterinary clinic in Calama, a city in northern Chile, weren’t wearing obligatory face masks, they received an unusual answer:
They were already vaccinated against COVID-19, by the vet herself, they were told. Muñoz had vaccinated herself, her family and her staff with a dog vaccine, Óctuple, which is used to help boost dogs’ immune systems but doesn’t prevent COVID-19.
“I’m talking about last year, when we didn’t yet have the (COVID-19) vaccines,” Rossana Diáz, the regional health secretary, told a Chilean news station.
Muñoz claimed to have not vaccinated anyone else with Óctuple, but investigators revealed this week that almost 100 people in Calama were injected with the canine vaccine.
The news was met with a flurry of dog memes on social media. However, vets have emphasized the seriousness of the matter.
“Óctuple is made to immunize dogs against several different viruses and it contains strains that are active,” says veterinary doctor Victor Neira, who teaches animal virology at University of Chile and member of the Veterinary Medical College of Chile.
“They were vaccinating people with active viruses which could have serious consequences.”
While there is no public information suggesting that any one of the (human) recipients of Óctuple experienced side effects, Neira stresses it was an irresponsible move. “Veterinary products are not made to work for human beings.”
A second vet in Calama, Carlos Prado, has been fined $9,200 by the Health Secretary for circulating information that falsely promoted the dog vaccine as an effective COVID-19 vaccine.
Last April, he drafted a report called “Cross Immunization with Canine Coronary Virus Vaccine as Preventive Treatment in Humans with Contagious Risk and Developing the Disease by Covid-19 Coronavirus,” which was full of misinformation including fabricated success stories, according to Chile’s health authorities.
“There is no scientific evidence that demonstrates this would work,” says Neira. “I don’t know if he made the report out of desperation, but if he had read a little bit, he would have known this.”
Meanwhile, Muñoz has been fined $10,200 by Chile’s government.
Chile began its official vaccination program in December 2020 and has received international plaudits for an impressive vaccine drive, securing millions of doses from diverse sources including Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac, AstraZeneca-Oxford, and Johnson & Johnson.
The country now boasts the fastest vaccination rate in the world, with over 30 percent of the population completing their two doses.
The investigation into the use of Óctuple as COVID-19 vaccine is still ongoing, but whoever used it as a COVID vaccine was barking up the wrong tree.