"Courtesy Doses": Peru probes early use of Sinopharm vaccine by top govt officials

LIMA (Reuters) – Peruvian prosecutors are investigating the use of so-called “courtesy doses” of China’s Sinopharm vaccine after two top government officials resigned over the weekend upon acknowledging they had taken the Chinese shot months ago, well before they were widely available in the country.

FILE PHOTO: Health workers wait for a dose of the Sinopharm’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Lima, Peru, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Sebastian Castaneda/File Photo/File Photo

The growing scandal in Peru erupted Thursday after ousted former President Martin Vizcarra said he too had received an early vaccination. Several other top officials have since stepped down.

Interim President Francisco Sagasti, who took office amid political crisis in November, said he was “furious” and had launched a probe. Most of his ministers, as well as those who served under Vizcarra, said Sunday they did not receive the shot.

“Those who have been involved in these totally improper and inappropriate acts will not have a place in my government,” Sagasti said in an interview late on Sunday with the América Televisión.

Peru’s Attorney General, Zoraida Ávalos, also opened a preliminary investigation against Vizcarra and “those responsible for handling the courtesy doses” of Sinopharm, a spokesman told reporters.

Vizcarra, who was ousted by Congress in November over corruption allegations, said he did not jump the line to receive the vaccination, but rather that he got it as part of a trial.

But Peru’s Cayetano Heredia University, which managed the country’s Sinopharm Group Co Ltd trial, said in a statement that neither Vizcarra nor his wife were volunteers.

Sinopharm’s clinical trials in Peru took place between September and the end of 2020 with about 12,000 volunteers. Local managers of the trial, however, received 3,200 additional doses intended for personnel related to the research, the university said.

The Chinese embassy in Lima did not immediately respond to comment on the situation.

Sagasti said his government was not involved with the allocation of the additional vaccines. “The decisions about who was vaccinated or not vaccinated with these gift doses, with these donated doses, was exclusive to those who administered those trials,” he said.

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