The revelation that Argentina’s health ministry maintained some sort of VIP vaccination center – in which politicians, their families and others close to power managed to break the line to receive the Covid-19 vaccine – sparked a new crisis in the government of President Alberto Fernández.
The scandal, which has earned the nickname “Vacina Gate”, has already toppled a minister, threatens other names at the top of the government and has sparked outrage in Argentine society.
Indeed, the ease with which these personalities had access to the doses contrasts with the slowness of the vaccination campaign for the general population.
As of Monday (22), 722,234 had received at least one dose of vaccination in the country, according to data from the Our World in Data website. This means that per 100 Argentines, only 1.6 have received the vaccine so far. By way of comparison, in Brazil, the proportion is 3.3 per 100 inhabitants.
According to current estimates, the Ministry of Health has reserved around 3,000 doses for its own use and to immunize loved ones – including politicians and family members.
In the second, after the case was disclosed, the government admitted that it allowed people who were not in the priority groups to skip the immunization line, but only revealed 70 names who would have benefited from the program.
The case is already in court. This Tuesday morning (23), the Posadas hospital (one of the main ones in the country) and the headquarters of the Ministry of Health were the target of a search and seizure operation. In addition, the former portfolio holder, Ginés González García – who resigned because of the scandal – is being prosecuted.
The story was revealed by journalist Horacio Verbitsky, 79, a long-time supporter of Peronism (Argentina’s main political movement, of which Fernández is a part) and who was an adviser to former president and current MP Cristina Kirchner.
Last week, Verbitsky publicly admitted that he skipped the line to receive the vaccine. He made the announcement because the Clarín newspaper, the country’s main newspaper, would publish a report on Sunday (21) revealing the affair.
In his statement, the journalist openly blamed García, already exhausted in the government. Verbitsky said he decided to get the shot, then called “old friend Gines”. The minister at the time asked him to go to the headquarters of the Ministry of Health to receive the dose.
In addition to skipping the line, the seasoned journalist also does not need to register to have time to receive his dose. Argentines have complained a lot about this process and report that internet and phone check-in is problematic and takes hours.
Soon after the first disclosure, more cases began to come to light. In addition to the ministry’s vaccination center, there were teams dedicated to delivering vaccines at home to VIP patients.
When the case came to light, just over a third of the 1.8 million doses of the Sputink V vaccine Argentina had received from Russia had already been used.
At that time, vaccination was restricted to healthcare professionals in most parts of the country. The exception was the province of Buenos Aires (which does not include the capital), where people over 70 had already started receiving the dose. In the city of Buenos Ares, the vaccination of people over the age of 80 did not start until Monday.
Argentina has leased 5 million doses of Sputnik V to be delivered in February, but production has been delayed, and new batches slated for March and April are also expected to suffer from the same problem. This week vaccination with Oxford / AstraZeneca is expected to begin, under an agreement with Mexico.
The delay in accelerating vaccination was already irritating Argentines and the revelation of several characters linked to power vaccinated in advance only increased the revolt.
Among the 70 beneficiaries revealed by the government are former President Eduardo Duhalde, 79, his wife, daughter and private secretary; the country’s main union leader, Hugo Moyano, 77, his wife and youngest son; the head of the Chamber, Peronist deputy Sergio Massa, 48, and all his family; the Treasury lawyer and former advisor to Cristina, Carlos Zannini, 66; the Minister of the Economy, Martín Guzmán, 38; Fernández’s press attaché, Juan Pablo Biondi, 48; the president’s chief of staff, Santiago Cafiero, 41; and the Argentine Ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Scioli, 64.
Fernández and Cristina also received the vaccination, but their case is different. Both have been publicly vaccinated in an attempt to increase public support for the campaign.
As soon as the case came to light, the president called for the resignation of Ginés González García and replaced him with number two in the portfolio, Carla Vizzoti.
As soon as she took office, the new minister declared that illegal vaccinations were only “one-off cases” and that, by order of the president, she would increase monitoring of the vaccination schedule. She also pledged to release the names of the beneficiaries if the episode recurs.
On the other hand, the opposition took advantage of the episode to criticize the government. Through his social networks, former President Mauricio Macri, 62, declared that he condemned the existence of the VIP vaccination center and that he would only get vaccinated in his turn. “I will not pass any elderly or at risk Argentinian.”