COVID-19: scandals overshadow vaccination in Latin America | Latin America | DW

The vaccination process against COVID-19 in Latin America, which already had problems due to its slowness and inequality, has been clouded by the other endemic virus that affects the region, and to which it appears not to be immune: corruption. Some politicians, officials, businessmen and academics were secretly immunized ahead of time amid irregularities in Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

The Peruvian “vaccinate”

Uncovering in the region began last week in Peru, where the local press reported that at least 487 people accessed an exclusive batch of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, intended for personnel working on the clinical trial of the vaccine, and when this was still in clinical trials. The scandal, dubbed “vaccinate”, hit high-ranking officials and their families, both from the previous government and the current transitional government.

At least 25 percent of those irregularly vaccinated with the Sinopharm batch were state workers. Among those vaccinated were recently ousted former president Martín Vizcarra, his wife and his brother. The then Minister of Health, Pilar Mazzetti, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Elizabeth Astete, were also secretly vaccinated along with personnel from their sector. For the political scientist of the Catholic University of Peru Fernando Tuesta, “this has been a hard blow in general. A big disappointment. Above all, in a country where presidents and authorities are prosecuted or have been imprisoned, the people mentioned now seemed like people who acted differently.

In September 2020, then-Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra and his wife secretly received the COVID-19 vaccine from the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm.

However, in the Peruvian “vaccinate” not only are involved high officials and their relatives. Renowned businessmen and even members of the Catholic Church benefited from the Chinese vaccine. Before the trial, the shipment of a batch with 3,200 extra doses had been established “to be voluntarily administered to the research team and personnel related to the study.” Those in charge of the study at the Cayetano Heredia University have given in to the request of the authorities and close contacts. After the scandal, the head of the Ministerial Cabinet reported that all the vaccinated officials are no longer part of the Government.

From the “VIP Vaccination” of Argentina to the parallel list of Chile

A similar scandal broke out last Friday in Argentina, where the president, Alberto Fernández, called for the resignation of his Minister of Health, Ginés González García, after it was revealed that those close to him had been vaccinated against COVID-19 at headquarters ministerial. Hours later, the same minister submitted his resignation from office.

The so-called “VIP Vaccination” was made public when the 71-year-old journalist Horacio Verbitsky told a local radio station that “friends and good contacts,” including him, were privileged with the inoculation. Verbitsky recounted that he himself called his “old friend” to receive the vaccine. According to the local press, in addition to the aforementioned journalist, other people close to the Government were vaccinated at the Ministry of Health. Mayors, political activists and provincial officials have also been vaccinated despite not being within the priority groups established by the country’s vaccination plan, which began the process at the end of December with the Sputnik V vaccine, but is progressing slowly due to to the shortage of doses.

Also Chile, despite being one of the leaders of the inoculation process in the region, has seen the development of vaccination tainted by irregularities. The Department of Health Statistics and Information (DEIS) revealed that some 37,000 people were vaccinated outside of their shift. This scandal of the parallel list, which has already been called the “Chilean vaccinate”, includes people under 60 years of age and without chronic diseases or mandatory requirements to be part of the first vaccination groups.

According to local media, around 9,000 vaccinated people are between 18 and 39 years old; another nine thousand, between 40 and 49 years, and 17 thousand between 50 and 59 years. Among these would be famous personalities and public officials. So far no responsibilities have been found, but the Chilean Undersecretary of Health, Paula Daza, has announced that a meticulous investigation will be carried out to determine what happened.

“There is a political, economic and a cultural factor here. This is something that we sadly see from Mexico to Argentina. Those who possess political and economic power or are close to them, tend to use it to gain advantages and privileges. It happens from who can access a good job and education. The most important thing is the connections: that the father, the uncle or the godmother make contact. We call it influentialism. This shows how deeply rooted this type of practice is, which goes against what the law says and against what we would consider ethical and moral, ”Professor Francisco González, from Johns Hopkins University, told DW.

Brazil’s “air vaccines”

For its part, in Brazil, the case of the “air vaccines” with which the elderly were victims of a simulation caused outrage. They thought they were being vaccinated, but they apparently got the jab with empty syringes or the nurse in charge of the application never pushed the plunger. The matter was known through videos that went viral on social networks.

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“If the investigations confirm that there was a deviation of doses, or any other irregularity, the health professional may be accused of the crime of embezzlement, which has penalties that can reach up to twelve years in prison,” the Rio Police said in a statement. de Janeiro, where the complaints came from.

Political and science implications

“We are saddened and disappointed that our values ​​and principles as scientists have been called into question. But a first act to regain credibility has been the resignations of the authorities. Now we are working on resuming the management of all our activities and obviously it has affected us, but we believe that our institution is bigger than people ”, comments to DW Theresa Ochoa, doctor and professor at the Cayetano Heredia University, who is also in charge of of the trials of the German CureVac vaccine in Peru.

The expert Ochoa says that after the scandal in Peru there was a bit of uncertainty, but once that has been clarified to the volunteers, the CureVac study continues in the same way.

For the Johns Hopkins professor, once again the inequality, “influentialism” and corruption that exist in Latin American societies are confirmed: “The coronavirus pandemic seems to have an end soon because we already have the help of medicine. But for corruption we have no vaccine, nor control of the effective institutional mechanisms to end it ”.

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