Peru's foreign minister resigns over coronavirus vaccine scandal

Health workers wait for a dose of the Sinopharm's coronavirus disease vaccine in Lima, Peru, on Feb 9, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

LIMA (REUTERS) - Peruvian Foreign Minister Elizabeth Astete said on Sunday night (Feb 14) that she resigned after acknowledging she received a dose of the coronavirus vaccine from China's Sinopharm, outside of clinical trials and before the national immunisation programme began.

Just a day earlier, President Francisco Sagasti said he accepted the resignation of Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti due to a scandal over former President Martin Vizcarra having also received an early vaccination.

Vizcarra, who was ousted by Congress in November over corruption allegations, has said he did not jump the line to receive the vaccination, but rather that he got it as part of a trial. Local media questioned that explanation.

Astete, who had held her post since November, said she was inoculated on Jan 22 after receiving an offer from the Peruvian university Cayetano Heredia, in charge of the trials, to receive the Sinopharm Group vaccine from a "remnant lot" of the tests.

"I am aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose," she said through Twitter. "For the reasons stated, I have presented my letter of resignation to the president."

The government announced in early January an agreement with Sinopharm to purchase up to 38 million doses of the vaccine.

The first batch of 300,000 vaccines arrived a week ago and the immunisation programme against Covid-19 began on Tuesday with the application of doses to healthcare workers who are the most exposed to the disease. Sagasti was one of the first to receive the Sinopharm vaccine as part of the campaign.

Some 43,491 people in Peru have died of Covid-19, according to official data. The country is facing a second wave of infections, with saturated hospitals and a shortage of medical equipment.

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