Argentina's health minister quits in vaccine line-jumping scandal

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Argentina's health minister resigned late Friday after it emerged that friends of his had been able to skip the line for a Covid-19 vaccination.

Health Minister Gines Gonzalez Garci stepped down after President Alberto Fernandez called on him to quit in the wake of the scandal.

"Responding to your express request, I present my resignation from the position of minister of health," Gonzalez Garcia, a 75-year-old doctor, wrote in a letter addressed to the president.

He will be replaced by one of his deputy ministers, 48-year-old Carla Vizzotti, who was responsible for securing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for Argentina, the first country in America to approve and use it.

The scandal broke after a 71-year-old journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, announced on the radio that, owing to his longstanding friendship with the minister, he had been able to get vaccinated in his 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 Wednesday in the province of Buenos Aires.

Local media reported that other people close to the government were also vaccinated at the health ministry.

Fernandez, who is in his 60s and was vaccinated in front of cameras to encourage Argentinians to sign up, ordered his chief of staff to ask for the minister's resignation, officials said.

Argentina, with 44 million inhabitants, has recorded some two million Covid-19 cases and suffered more than 50,000 deaths.

Its officials are not the only ones in South America to face such accusations.

In Peru, the government has been rocked by charges against some 500 government officials – including former president Martin Vizcarra and top ministers – accused of getting vaccinated ahead of their turn.

Police raided the health ministry and two university clinics on Friday as part of the investigation into what has been termed "Vacunagate."

The group allegedly received some of the 3,200 extra doses provided for the staff in charge of trials of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, which included 12,000 Peruvian volunteers.

(AFP)