Peru health chief quits over vaccine scandal

LIMA—Peru’s health minister resigned Friday, state TV reported, amid a growing scandal over claims that former President Martin Vizcarra was vaccinated against COVID-19 before the jab was available to the public.

Pilar Mazzetti — who had served as the country’s minister of health since July last year — has presented her letter of resignation to President Francisco Sagasti, state television network TV Peru reported. The government is yet to formally confirm she is stepping down. 

Her successor is due to be sworn in Saturday, local media said, and will be the South American nation’s fifth health minister since the pandemic first emerged in the country 11 months ago. 

They will take office as the country continues to be hammered by a second wave of COVID-19 — hospitals are overrun with more than 14,100 coronavirus patients and have reported a lack of oxygen to treat those with breathing problems.

Peru only began its immunization program on Tuesday, two days after receiving 300,000 vaccine doses from state-owned Chinese company Sinopharm.

But the Peru 21 newspaper reported Thursday that former President Vizcarra had been vaccinated in secret in October, just weeks before he was impeached and removed from office on charges that he was “morally incompetent.”

Vizcarra has insisted he had merely volunteered to take part in a vaccine trial for the Sinopharm jab.

“I made the brave decision to join the 12,000 volunteers,” the former president, who is currently campaigning to win a seat in congress in April’s general election, has said. 

Vizcarra, 57, said he kept the fact a secret — his wife also took part in the trial — because “volunteers have to maintain confidentiality.”

However, rival legislator Ali Mamani said his party would make a formal complaint against Vizcarra.

Health minister Mazzetti, who was appointed by Vizcarra, has said she knew nothing about her former boss’s secret jab, and has said that those in decision-making positions shouldn’t take part in the trials “so as not to skew the results.”

Peru, which has recorded around 1.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 43,000 deaths among its 33 million people, began immunizing health care workers this week.

Authorities have yet to announce when immunization of the wider population will begin.

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