Peru’s foreign minister resigns in scandal over early vaccination of officials

Peru’s foreign minister has resigned amid uproar over government officials being secretly vaccinated against coronavirus before the country recently received 1m doses for health workers facing a resurgence in the pandemic.

The president, Francisco Sagasti, confirmed that Elizabeth Astete had stepped down and told a local television channel that Peruvians should feel “outraged and angry about this situation that jeopardises the enormous effort of many Peruvians working on the frontline against Covid”.

The scandal erupted on Thursday when the former president Martín Vizcarra, who was dismissed by Congress on 9 November over a corruption allegation, confirmed a newspaper report that he and his wife had secretly received shots of a vaccine from the Chinese state pharmaceutical company Sinopharm in October. Pilar Mazzetti resigned as health minister on Friday after legislators accused her of concealing information.

Sagasti tweeted that during Vizcarra’s administration, an extra 2,000 doses of the vaccine had been received from Sinopharm and that “some senior public officials were vaccinated”.

The new health minister, Óscar Ugarte, said on Sunday night that Sagasti had ordered the resignation of all officials who secretly received the Chinese vaccine. Ugarte said an investigation was under way to identify officials who were secretly vaccinated in September.

Astete, who led the Peruvian negotiations to buy the 1m doses of Sinopharm’s vaccine, released a statement on Sunday in which she said she was vaccinated with the first dose on 22 January. “I am aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose.”

Peru bought the vaccines in early January at a price that is secret under the contract.

Doctors and nurses have protested because they were not included in the first lists to be vaccinated with doses received from Sinopharm. The pandemic has caused the deaths of 306 doctors and 125 nurses, with more than 20,000 doctors and nurses being infected.

Peru has had more than 1.2m cases of coronavirus, with 43,703 deaths related to Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally of cases around the world.