Over the last few weeks, two vaccination scandals have broken out in Peru and Argentina. Multiple high-ranking officers and wealthy private citizens were granted access to vaccines months before the immunization campaign in both countries began. In Peru’s case, this happened before the vaccines were even purchased. The scandals have shaken both countries and left many feeling betrayed by their government.
What happened in Peru:
On February 10th, journalist Carlos Paredes reported that former President Martin Vizcarra, a candidate in the upcoming April elections, had been secretly vaccinated back in October 2020 alongside his wife. Back then, Peru had not approved the use of any vaccines in the country and negotiations to acquire vaccines were still ongoing. In response to the allegations, Martin Vizcarra told the press that “he had taken the brave decision to get vaccinated as part of the Sinopharm vaccine trial”. During a congress session the next day, the Minister of Health denied having knowledge of Vizcarra’s secret vaccination, even as journalists reported that the Head of the Sinopharm Vaccine Trial in Peru, German Malaga, had been responsible for vaccinating the president.
That same night Pilar Mazzetti, the Minister of Health, resigned from her position to everyone’s surprise.
The next day, February 14th, the Universidad Cayetano Heredia, one of the two universities responsible for the vaccine trial, denied Vizcarra’s participation in the trial. Shortly after, news broke that Peru had in fact received 2,000 doses separate from the vaccine trial. Some of those doses had been used to vaccinate high ranking public officers, their family members, and other wealthy citizens
The other university in charge of the vaccine trials, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, categorically denied participating in any illegal or secret vaccinations on the following day, February 15th. However, less than three hours after their denial, the media reported that the University Dean of Students, the Chancellor, and several other Vice Chancellors had also been illegally vaccinated.
They also reported that Pilar Mazetti, the former Minister of Health, had been vaccinated at the start of January. This was weeks before she had famously stated that she would “be the last person to be vaccinated in the country” while stressing the importance of vaccinating healthcare workers ahead of politicians.
A list of everyone who was vaccinated was released to the public later that same day. The list contained the full names of every person who had been vaccinated, as well as the reason why they were being vaccinated. Five hundred names on the list had some variation of “close friend or family member” listed as reasons for their vaccination. Among those were the names of the former President, his wife and his brother, as well as the children and wife of the Vice Minister of Health, and other prominent politicians in the country. Pilar Mazzetti’s driver was vaccinated as well. Some of the private citizens who were vaccinated included a wealthy restaurant owner, the executives and officer of two private labs in the country, the Vatican’s envoy, and German Malaga’s own daughter, who was only in Peru for three weeks—the exact time needed to get two full vaccine doses.
President Sagasti gave a speech where he said all the participants would be investigated and criminally charged if legal charges could be brought upon them. In this, Sagasti denied having any knowledge of the vaccinations, and strongly condemned the actions of his colleagues. He went as far as accusing the former government from delaying the vaccine purchase because they were already vaccinated.
The scandal has caused severe outrage among the Peruvian population and medical community. As many doctors were excluded from these secretive first rounds of vaccinations, many have now also taken to protest in response.
What happened in Argentina:
On February 18th, the media reports in Argentina triggered speculation about illegally supplied “V.I.P Vaccinations”. The next day, the journalist Horacio Verbitsky announced he had been vaccinated as part of V.I.P. immunization, proclaiming he had called his old friend and current Minister of Health, Ginez Gonzales, who had arranged his vaccination. That very same day, the names of others involved in the scandal surfaced, among those were wealthy businessmen, high ranking politicians and government officers, as well as their family members and friends. Relevant names included the former president Eduardo Duhalde and his wife, as well as his personal assistant and his children.
Once the vaccination became public knowledge, the sitting President Alberto Fernandez asked the Minister of Health to give his resignation. Ginez Gonzales did in fact present his resignation, but denied any wrongdoing, insisting the vaccination had been “an unwilling mistake from his secretary”.
Three days later, the police raided the Ministry of Health, in an effort to collect more proof of the illegal vaccination. The newspaper “La Nacion” reported that the Minister of Health had set aside 3000 doses from the Sputnik V shipment with the intent of vaccinating prominent figures. The government continues to deny any wrongdoing, insisting that those who were vaccinated should be considered “essential workers”. Furthermore, they have argued that the fact that a record was kept meant that the vaccinations weren’t “secret”, regardless of whether or not it was made public.
On February 27th, thousands of Argentinians took to the streets to protest the V.I.P. vaccinations and the lack of accountability and transparency from their government. Among them, many demanded the resignation of the President. In protest, a group of demonstrators put body bags outside the Casa Rosada, the office and residence of Argentina’s President. The intent behind the body bags was to represent those who would not have died had they been able to access the vaccine. In response, the President took to Twitter to condemn the demonstrations, saying that his political opponents were behind the “antics”. The President went on to say the protests were a despicable act that were “not representative of democracy”.
Where to go from here?
The wealth divide in Latin America has become more prominent ever since the pandemic began. While upper middle class and upper class citizens have been able to work offsite and have their children attend school online, the majority of the population have struggled with supporting their families. Furthermore, the prolonged lockdowns have caused many to lose their jobs or withdraw from school as they can no longer afford to not work.
These scandals have not only shaken the confidence that citizens have in their own governments, but have also caused an uproar that will be hard to control. Protests in 2019 and 2020 proved that people in Latin America are no longer afraid to take to the streets to protest the ongoing injustices present in their country. As distrust is at an all time-high, one has to wonder whether or not the Argentinian government will be able to recover the trust of its citizens.
Peru, on the other hand, is about to have elections in April. Currently, there is no frontrunner and, given the country’s multiple political crises and eroding trust in political figures, there is an increasing likelihood that the future president in Peru will, once more, be a “lesser evil” that Peruvians vote into office rather than a true representative of the country.
Edited by Kai Scott
Photocredits: Photo by CDC on Unsplash, published on February 2nd 2021, license under Public Domain. No changes were made.