Peru names 6th FM in under a year as vaccine scandal grows

·3-min read
Former president Martin Vizcarra is one of the people caught in a growing coronavirus vaccine scandal in Peru

Peru on Monday appointed its sixth foreign minister in less than a year following a fresh resignation over a growing coronavirus vaccinations scandal.

Veteran diplomat Allan Wagner, 79, was sworn in less than 24 hours after Elizabeth Astete became the second top official to step down over the scandal.

Peru has been gripped in recent days by the news that government officials received the Covid-19 vaccination weeks or even months before the South American country launched its immunization program.

Health minister Pilar Mazzetti stepped down last week following a newspaper report that former president Martin Vizcarra had received a shot of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in October.

Peru only began its immunization drive, starting with healthcare workers, in early February after receiving 300,000 doses of vaccine.

But there is still no official start date for the immunization of the general population.

Peruvian media reported at the weekend that Attorney General Zoraida Avalos had opened a "preliminary investigation" against Vizcarra and others responsible for the early vaccination of senior officials.

Astete tweeted on Sunday that she received the shot last month, calling it a "serious mistake" and saying she would not get the second dose.

Vizcarra, who was impeached and removed from office in November, insists he took part in a vaccine trial and had kept the news quiet due to volunteer "confidentiality."

However, the university leading the trial on Sunday denied Vizcarra had been a volunteer, a statement to which he expressed "great surprise" while reiterating his claim.

Vizcarra, who left office with high approval ratings, apologized Monday to his compatriots "for not having reported that fact at that time," but insisted again that he had volunteered for the trial, along with his wife and brother.

"I submit to the investigations in order to clarify this situation," he added, denying that he had "lied" or committed a crime.

- An 'ethical issue' -

The Chinese embassy said in a statement that it did not have information on the identity of those vaccinated, since the trial was conducted by Peruvian universities, and rejected the use of "terms such as courtesy vaccines, donations or perks" used by Peruvian media.

The scandal comes with Peru suffering from Latin America's second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The country of 33 million has recorded more than 1.2 million cases and more than 43,700 deaths from Covid-19.

While leaders and government ministers in some other countries made a public display of getting vaccinated to encourage nervous citizens about safety concerns, the secrecy surrounding Peru's top officials getting the shots early has sparked criticism among ordinary folk.

"It is a more ethical issue. You and your family cannot get vaccinated when there are people on the front line, doctors, who have died," worker Anais Rojas told AFP.

"I do not see (this matter) as a priority at this time, given the situation we are in, (but) I believe that an investigation should be done," said Kevin Calero, an administrative employee.

Wagner was previously foreign minister from 1985-88 and then again from 2002-03.

A career diplomat who entered the foreign office in 1963, he was previously defense minister and ambassador to the US and the Netherlands.