Argentina health minister resigns over COVID vaccine scandal

Resignation comes after reports of people using connections to jump the queue and receive COVID-19 jabs.

Argentina's Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia stepped down late on Friday amid a COVID-19 vaccination scandal [File: Matias Baglietto/Reuters]

Argentina’s health minister has resigned after reports surfaced that people in the South American nation were using connections to jump the queue and receive COVID-19 vaccines.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Friday, Gines Gonzalez Garcia said individuals were able to sidestep proper procedure for vaccinations due to “unintended confusion” in his office while he was away.

“Responding to your express request, I present my resignation from the position of minister of health,” Garcia wrote in a letter addressed to President Alberto Fernandez, who had sought the minister’s resignation.

“I express my gratitude to the vast majority of the Argentine people for their commitment and support for the policies we implement to rebuild our federal health system, with greater equity, access and quality,” Garcia also tweeted.

The scandal broke after an Argentine journalist said he had received a COVID-19 jab after speaking directly to the minister.

Garcia will be replaced by one of his deputy ministers, Carla Vizzotti, who was responsible for securing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, which the country has deployed since December.

Argentina gave priority to healthcare workers in its coronavirus vaccination programme and vaccinations for people over age 70 began on Wednesday in the province of Buenos Aires.

The country of 44 million people has reported more than two million cases of COVID-19 and 51,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

A woman receives a first dose of the Sputnik V vaccine, as Argentina continues its inoculation campaign in Buenos Aires on February 19 [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

Deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines have lagged far behind what Argentina initially hoped for, however. As of Wednesday, about 250,000 people had received two doses.

Argentina is not the only country in Latin America facing a coronavirus vaccine scandal, fuelling public anger and resentment.

Peru’s health and foreign affairs ministers resigned this month after reports surfaced that hundreds of government officials, including former President Martin Vizcarra, received jabs before vaccines were widely available.

Interim Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti said last week that 487 officials took advantage of their posts to secretly receive early inoculations.

Al Jazeera’s Daniel Schweimler, reporting from Buenos Aires on Saturday, said the presidents of Peru and Argentina hope to get the scandals behind them and rebuild citizens’ trust.

“I think what will speak most resonantly to the populations is vaccinations,” he said.

“Really, that’s how they will speak to their people: get the vaccinations in and rolled out as soon as they possibly can.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies