Peru vaccine scandal

Politicians claiming vaccines before they have been made available to the most vulnerable sparks discontent in Peru

Photo by Luka Gonzales for AFP.

— 2 minute read — By Madi Sutton

Outrage spread across Peru last month after it was revealed that former president, Martin Vizcarra, was vaccinated against COVID-19 before the vaccine was officially available. This comes as part of a wider scandal that 487 people received early inoculations before healthcare workers, including Mr Vizcarra’s wife and brother.

The current Peruvian president, Francisco Sagasti, condemned these actions in a statement about officials taking “advantage of their position[s] to be immunised with the Sinopharm vaccines… in addition to those used in clinical trials”.

Mr Vizcarra has claimed he was involved in these clinical trials, as one of the 12,000 trial volunteers, making his vaccination acceptable. However, in a testimony given to Peru’s congress on 16th February, Dr Germán Málaga disputed this, claiming that Mr Vizcarra knew he would be receiving the real vaccine and not a placebo. If he were a volunteer in a blind trial, he would not be aware which jab he was being given.

Mr Vizcarra is currently running for congress after corruption allegations in November 2020 led to him being impeached and removed from office. Now this separate scandal has resulted in the resignation of some of the country’s health and foreign ministers, alongside two vice ministers. A former health minister and public health expert, Victor Zamora, has spoken of the betrayal felt by the Peruvian public, stating that “the impact is bad, no matter how you look at this”.

A worker for Médecins Sans Frontières, Angela Uyen, has also aired her concerns about the effect this scandal will have on Peru’s international integrity and the “level[s] of confidence international stakeholders have regarding Peruvian regulation and the ethics of researchers”.

With healthcare workers only starting to receive their vaccines in early February of this year, uproar has been fuelled by the report of a further 187 deaths on Feb 20th, bringing Peru’s 11-month total to 44,877. Whilst this may not be the highest death rate compared to other countries internationally, it is still a large figure. This scandal seems to only have added to the discontent.