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ARGENTINA | 21-02-2021 08:40

Carla Vizzotti sworn in as new health minister amid 'VIP vaccine' scandal

Carla Vizzotti sworn in as Argentina's new health minister, following the resignation of her predecessor Ginés González García.

Carla Vizzotti was sworn in as Argentina's new health minister on Saturday, following the resignation of her predecessor after he was caught helping friends and acquaintances skip the line for Covid-19 vaccinations.

Vizzotti, who is widely credited with playing a key role in securing Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for Argentina and has led most of the Health Ministry's press conferences on the coronavirus pandemic, was sworn in by President Alberto Fernández at the Olivos presidential residence in a brief ceremony broadcast on television.

As a former deputy minister and health access secretary, the 48-year-old is expected to hit the ground running and shift attention away from her predecessor, Ginés González García, who resigned in scandalous circumstances late Friday night.

González García, 75, stepped down after it emerged that he had aided acquaintances in getting vaccinated ahead of their turn. "In response to your express request, I present my resignation to the position of Minister of Health," he wrote on Friday in a letter addressed to the president.

The scandal broke after a 79-year-old journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, announced during a radio interview that, owing to his longstanding friendship with the minister, he had been able to get vaccinated in the minister's office ahead of the general population. 

So far only health workers have been vaccinated in Argentina and vaccinations for people aged over 70 only began on Thursday in Buenos Aires Province. Other regions began vaccinating the elderly only this weekend.

Local media reported that other people close to the government were also vaccinated at the Health Ministry, with local media publishing the names of at least 10 individuals who are believed to have received the jab out of turn. The Public Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation, according to reports on Sunday.

Some local analysts said that González García's departure came as no surprise. The former minister faced criticism as Argentina struggled to seal vaccine contracts, and the pace of inoculations runs well below the government’s target. The minister made other missteps, including dismissing concern about the virus in early 2020 and projecting multiple times that cases would fall, only to see them surge after a strict lockdown. The minister also battled with Pfizer Inc over legal terms for vaccine doses, and was unable to secure an agreement.

So far Argentina has received 1.2 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine and 580,000 of Covishield from the Serum Institute of India. The country has recorded more than two million cases of Covid-19 and 51,000 deaths, out of a population of 44 million people.

González García's firing follows similar scandals in the region. In Peru, former head of state Martín Vizcarra was among 487 people to receive the Sinopharm vaccine before it was available to the public. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration drove out two health ministers over pandemic policy disagreements.

According to the Perfil newspaper, at least six criminal complaints against González García have been filed with the courts in Argentina, though none have yet been assigned to a judge as they came in too late on Friday night.

According to the Télam state news agency, President Fernández is "very hurt" by the chain of events, given that he "highly values" the departing minister's efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

– TIMES/AFP

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