More than 480 people, including several ministers and a former president, were quietly vaccinated against Covid-19 in Peru even before the country’s official vaccination campaign began, says President Francisco Sagasti.
Sagasti announced Monday that 487 people “took advantage of their position” to receive the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine early, during a televised address Monday night, reported state media Andina.
“We reiterate our indignation and disappointment after being informed that 487 people, including many senior officials, took advantage of their position to be immunized with the Sinopharm vaccines, which came as a complement to those used in clinical trials in our country,” Sagasti said.
The revelation follows local media reports that former President President Martin Vizcarra and his wife, Maribel Diaz Cabello, were vaccinated while in office last October and did not disclose this information to the public.
Vizcarra has said that he and his wife were vaccinated as part of a clinical trial, but Cayetano Heredia University, which is in charge of the trials, denied that they had participated as volunteers.
Not all officials who received the early vaccine were part of Vizcarra’s administration. Sagasti noted that several members of his own government, including Foreign Minister Elizabeth Astete, were also vaccinated early, Andina reported.
“We are outraged, and this causes us a deep feeling of pain, because these people who made up our Transition and Emergency Government, failed to fulfill their duty as public servants and to show loyalty to the President of the Council of Ministers and me,” Sagasti said, according to Andina.
Astete, who led Peruvian negotiations to buy Sinopharm’s vaccine, said in a statement over the weekend that she had been vaccinated on January 22 with what she believed to be the “remaining doses of the batch held by the Cayetano Heredia University.”
Peru received its first 300,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine on February 7 and began distributing it to frontline health care workers two days later – becoming the first Latin American country to do so.
“As a result of the recent disclosure about the vaccination of (former) President Vizcarra and his wife, as well as the understandable impact that this news had on public opinion, I am aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose,” Astete said.
The full list of those vaccinated will be sent to the country’s Comptroller General’s Office, the Public Ministry, the State Attorney’s General Office, and an investigation commission formed by Health Minister Oscar Ugarte, he said.
The Chinese Embassy in Peru said they were aware of the reports but did not have information on who was vaccinated.
“The Chinese side emphasizes that this clinical trial is carried out in compliance with the procedures required by the Peruvian authorities,” the embassy said in a statement. “The Chinese side has no information on the identity of those vaccinated.”
Peru became the first Latin American country to distribute China’s Sinopharm vaccine on February 9. Although other agreements have been finalized with Pfzier/BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca, the Sinopharm vaccine is the only vaccine being used for the country’s vaccination rollout at the moment.
Peru currently has 1,238,501 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 43,880 reported deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.