Peru’s foreign minister resigned Sunday in a growing scandal over the revelation that government officials received Covid-19 vaccinations well before the general public.
The South American nation has been badly hit by the pandemic, with its health system overwhelmed and a targeted vaccination program for health workers rolling out only from February 8.
Public resentment over officials receiving vaccinations — despite there being no date for a wider immunization roll out — has seen at least two government officials resign.
Elizabeth Astete tweeted on Sunday that her resignation had been formally accepted by President Francisco Sagasti.
She said in the statement she had been vaccinated on January 22, calling it a “serious mistake.”
Sagasti told the America Television channel he was “outraged and furious” about the situation.
Astete is the second member of Sagasti’s cabinet to resign after health minister Pilar Mazzetti stepped down following a newspaper expose that ex-president Martin Vizcarra had received a coronavirus shot in October.
Peru only began its immunization drive, starting with health workers, in early February after receiving 300,000 Chinese Sinopharm vaccine doses.
There is still no date for a general vaccine roll-out, but the government has said it intends to vaccinate 10 million people by July.
Vizcarra, 57, was inoculated just weeks before he was impeached and removed from office on charges he was “morally incompetent.”
The ex-president — who is now campaigning for a seat in Congress — said last week he and his wife had volunteered to take part in a vaccine trial, adding he kept mum as “volunteers have to maintain confidentiality.”
But Lima’s Cayetano Heredia University, which is leading clinical tests of the Sinopharm vaccine, on Sunday denied Vizcarra had been a trial volunteer.
The facility had informed Peru’s health authorities “that Mr Martin Vizcarra and (his wife) Mrs Maribel Diaz Cabello are not part of the group of 12,000 volunteer research subjects.”
Vizcarra expressed “great surprise” at Cayetano Heredia University’s statement, reiterating he had received two doses as a trial subject.
He said there had been no “administrative fault or crime,” and warned his actions are being used by “enemies of the country with the intention of discrediting.”
The controversy led to Mazzetti’s resignation last week despite denying knowledge of the vaccination of Vizcarra, who appointed her.
Peruvian media have speculated there may be numerous officials who are already vaccinated, prompting Sagasti’s chief of staff and 12 other ministers to state they have yet to be immunized.
The 76-year-old leader was publicly vaccinated on Tuesday alongside health personnel.
Peru has recorded more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and nearly 43,500 deaths among its 33 million people.