Argentina’s Minister of Health Gines Gonzalez Garcia has resigned after media reports that people had been able to use connections to get access to Covid-19 vaccines. President Alberto Fernández had requested the resignation shortly after the news broke.
The scandal, which emerged after a veteran journalist said he had received a shot after speaking directly with the minister, threw a spotlight on wider fears in the region about corruption and access to vaccines, which are in short supply.
Other reports indicated that Garcia may have allowed the inoculation of other friends and acquaintances, most of them part of the government, who were not part of priority vaccine groups.
Garcia’s case is the latest of several Covid-vaccine related scandals that have surfaced across South America in recent weeks. Health officials in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Paraguay are also under investigation for vaccinating friends and family members ahead of other priority candidates. Several government employees have resigned as a result.
Well-known local journalist and talk radio show host Horacio Verbitsky said he had received a shot after being offered the opportunity by the minister. “I called my old friend Gines Gonzalez Garcia and he told me to go to the Posadas Hospital,” Verbitsky, who is in his seventies, told radio station El Destape.
Since December, Argentina has been using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to inoculate front-line health workers, although deliveries have lagged far behind what it initially hoped for. The country has started inoculating some people over age 70 this week but appointments are scarce and people are supposed to follow a procedure that involves registering first.
Argentinian media have reported multiple cases of politicians and others who were not in priority groups receiving their shots.
As of Wednesday in Argentina, about 250,000 people had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The country of approximately 45 million people has confirmed more than two million coronavirus infections and 51,000 deaths.
The sources did not immediately say who would replace the health minister.
Earlier this month, Peru’s health minister had to quit after reports of hundreds of Peruvian officials and others receiving vaccine doses outside of clinical trials and before the national immunisation programme began. The government has been rocked by charges against some 500 government officials – including former President Martin Vizcarra and top ministers – accused of getting vaccinations before their turn.
Police raided the health ministry and two university clinics on Friday as part of the investigation into what has been termed “Vacunagate”.
“The Office of the Special Prosecutor for Corruption of Officials in North Lima initiated preliminary proceedings against those who are responsible for the alleged crimes against the public administration for the use of laboratory vaccines,” investigators said on Twitter.
Prosecutors and police officers were seeking information on the irregular vaccination of 487 people, including former President Martin Vizcarra and top ministers, according to the official list.
The group received some of the 3,200 extra doses provided for the staff in charge of trials of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, which included 12,000 Peruvian volunteers.
In Ecuador, Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos is headed for an impeachment trial by the National Assembly because he allowed himself and his elderly mother to be vaccinated with the first shipment of vaccines.