Around 500 politically-connected people in Peru received doses of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine last year before it was approved, including then-President Martin Vizcarra, The Wall Street Journal reports.
According to the Journal, government consultants, lobbyists, cabinet ministers and members of Vizcarra’s family all received doses of the vaccine, with the incident now being referred to as Vaccine Gate. The doses came from 2,000 previously undisclosed shots.
News of the discrete vaccinations was first revealed when Peruvian media reported that Vizcarra had received two doses in October.
“I feel outraged and furious with this situation,” said Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti.
Sagasti took over the role after Vizcarra was impeached last November.
The outlet reports that Peru’s health minister has resigned along with other top officials, and prosecutors have opened an investigation into the secret immunizations. Prosecutors will be investigating Vizcarra to determine if the vaccines were some form of kickback or unlawful practice between Peru's government and Sinopharm.
The Peruvian government signed an agreement with Sinopharm to buy 38 million doses of its vaccine in January.
The Chinese embassy in Peru stated it did not know who received the early vaccines, the Journal reports, saying that it "reaffirms its will to strengthen China-Peru relations." The Journal notes that the Peruvian government has said 1,200 of the extra shots from Sinopharm were for the Chinese embassy.
“We are accustomed in Peru to live from one corruption scandal to another corruption scandal, but something like this is still really shocking,” Samuel Rotta, director of the anticorruption organization ProEtica, told the Journal. “This is going to further undermine confidence in the state, in the authorities, in politics and the elite.”
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Peru has reported over 1.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 44,000 deaths.