SANTIAGO, July 23 (Reuters) - Chilean authorities said on Friday that China's Sinovac had begun evaluating potential sites for the construction of a vaccine plant in Chile that could begin producing doses of the Chinese shot as early as the first half of 2022.
Chile, a global leader in vaccinating its citizens against the coronavirus, has leaned heavily on the Sinovac vaccine in its fast-paced mass vaccination program. The Andean nation also helped spearhead clinical trials of the shot late last year.
A delegation of executives from Sinovac this week visited potential sites for the factory near the capital Santiago and in Chile's northern desert.
"This is an investment that could be made very quickly and that would make the plant ... operational in the first quarter next year," Economy Minister Lucas Palacios told reporters following a site visit near Antofagasta.
Palacios said the plant could produce as many as 50 million vaccine doses annually and in addition to its CoronaVac COVID-19 shot, it could produce vaccines for hepatitis B or influenza.
Sinovac is expected to announce its final investment decision for the plant, which would supply vaccines in Chile and regionally, in the coming weeks.
(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Dave Sherwood, editing by Giles Elgood)