Argentina’s president fired the country’s health minister on Friday after he was revealed to have personally helped to arrange Covid-19 vaccines for VIPs with government connections
Some of the jabs went to people not considered to be priority cases or high risk citizens over 70, igniting a scandal in a country where the vaccination rollout has fallen far behind government promises.
Peronist president Alberto Fernández demanded the resignation of Ginés González García after a veteran leftwing journalist and government ally Horacio Verbitsky let slip on local radio that his “friend” González had helped him to get a vaccine.
Verbitsky said he was invited to receive the jab at the health ministry in downtown Buenos Aires.
So far only 1.8m vaccines have arrived in Argentina, after the government had said the country would have some 20m by now. The programme currently relies on Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, although it has also teamed up with Mexico to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine locally.
The latest scandal follows a similar “vaccine-gate” in Peru, which has led to the resignation of that country’s health minister and foreign minister. Peru’s former president Martin Vizcarra and other senior politicians were secretly vaccinated against coronavirus weeks before inoculations were made publicly available.
Among those who allegedly received the “VIP vaccines” in Argentina were government officials, representatives in congress and trade unionists, including Hugo Moyano, one of the most powerful in the country, as well as his wife and his youngest son. According to the newspaper La Nación, the health ministry had reserved 3,000 vaccines for its own use.
González has come under fire for mistakes over the past year, starting with his claim in January last year that there was “no chance” that coronavirus would reach Argentina. He subsequently said that he was not worried about Covid-19, and that it was less of a threat than dengue fever. He also promised that Argentina would have 10m people vaccinated by December, but so far only about 400,000 people have received the vaccine.
One congressman, Eduardo Valdes, who is an old friend of the president, told a local radio station on Friday: “I never thought I was doing something illegal. I asked the health minister if he could [help me get] a vaccine because I have to travel to Mexico [with the president].”
Earlier this year another prominent leftist journalist, Beatriz Sarlo, said she had been offered a vaccine “under the table”, but had refused the offer.
“It’s a national outrage,” said Patricia Bullrich, an opposition congresswoman.
“We demand that the president explains this embarrassment today,” said Alfredo Cornejo, another prominent opposition leader.