Over 110 thousand people have been vaccinated against influenza A subtype H1N1 in northern Chile in preparation for the massive turnout of faithful to the small town of La Tirana to celebrate the Andean religious festival of the Virgin of La Tirana.
Health authorities in Chile have reported that in four days more than 110,000 people have been vaccinated against influenza A-H1N1 in the Region of Tarapacá. Although health and political authorities have maintained that the traditional feast cannot be suspended, several opposition groups have criticized the government for not preventing the festival where about 200,000 people could be at risk of contracting the dreaded virus.
The demand for the vaccine increased after the alarm went off about the outbreak of this virus that has affected the area and has caused 12 deaths so far. This has generated long lines of people interested in immunization at vaccination centers in the northern region of the country. On July 8, one of the health centers had to be closed when vaccine doses run out.
Besides concerns about influenza cases detected and which have caused deaths in the region, the main reason for the high demand relates to the requirement set by the authorities to those attending the traditional religious festival at La Tirana who must show proof of vaccination before being allowed in the town where the festival is held.
The traditional Festival of La Tirana is celebrated every year on July 15 and 16 in a village where regularly reside less than 1,000 people. The attendance to the festival is expected to reach approximately 200,000 people. The faithful attend the celebration from various parts of Chile, Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina. To prevent the concentration of people spreading the virus further, the Health Ministry will require vaccination against A-H1N1 to all attendees.
The tradition of this festival originates from a native legend dating back to 1535, when the first Spanish army left Cuzco to conquer Chile taking with them many aborigines as prisoners and hostages to facilitate submission of natives in the invaded territories. The legend describes a love story between a woman belonging to the indigenous nobility and a Portuguese expeditionary. Both were killed by the Indians in punishment for the woman converting to Catholicism.
Troupes of people wearing colorful masks and costumes of Andean origin parade and dance through the streets of the town every July 16th commemorating the day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with a grand celebration that attracts visitors and faithful. Thousands of believers dedicate music, dancing and offerings to the "Virgin of La Tirana" in a colorful spectacle unique in the country (see video above).