The scandal of the VIP vaccination for the friends of power, mounted in the Argentine Ministry of Health, shakes a society worried about the shortage of vaccines and the lack of perspective of obtaining more doses in the short term.
For the Government, in which the forces of traditional Peronism that support President Alberto Fernández and the Kirchnerism of the powerful Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner are pushing, the scandal has meant an additional complication to management problems and a new occasion for friction internal.
Everything happens in the midst of a panorama of strong economic downturn –with a drop in GDP of 11.78% and a poverty level that reached 44.2% in 2020– and on the eve of an electoral year in which the governing coalition he hopes to consolidate his parliamentary majority.
With a total of 2,069,751 cases, 51,359 deaths, more than 7,000 new infections per day, a low level of vaccination compared to other countries in the region such as Chile and Brazil and the consequences of economic paralysis due to the longest quarantine in the In the world, Argentines see mass vaccination as a very distant possibility.
The situation not only affects older adults who hope to end the confinement they have been in for almost a year, but, above all, health personnel, who have not been fully immunized.
In Argentina, the quarantine began formally on March 20, 2020 and was extended by presidential decrees until November 9 of the same year. The Government called this period Obligatory Preventive Social Isolation (ASPO) and had the objective of allowing the improvement of the health system to avoid a collapse.
Until mid-May the confinement was strictly enforced, but then social unrest began to manifest itself, mainly due to complete economic paralysis. Since then, compliance began to be uneven.
Demonstrations from social sectors that identify with the opposition called for “smart quarantine”, that is, working with protocols. The government rejected this movement, calling it “antiquarantine”. Currently and until the 28th of this month the DISPO remains in force.
The government plan provides for vaccinating 25 million people over 18 years of age. However, 720,266 doses of Sputnik V purchased from Russia have been received so far, which is enough to vaccinate 360,133 people, and 580,000 doses of Covishield, manufactured in India with technology transfer from AstraZeneca and Oxford.
This is because there have been unexpected delays during the production of the Oxford vaccine. Also because the government of Vladimir Putin has been overcome with the demand of Sputnik V since a pre-agreement with Pfizer was not finalized. Despite everything, the Argentine Executive ensures that 51 million doses will have been received from different laboratories in July to complete the plan.
The problems mentioned had already called into question the handling of the Ministry of Health by its head, Ginés González García, who has never clearly explained why the agreement with Pfizer was frustrated. He also dragged a series of errors in his appreciation of the pandemic, as when he assured: “The situation in Argentina is better than that of other countries because we are far away, there are no direct flights and we are in summer, which is when this type of virus works less. “
In this context, it was learned that the national Ministry of Health had set up a “VIP vaccination” for politicians, trade unionists, journalists and businessmen. Who revealed it was one of those beneficiaries, the journalist Horacio Verbitsky – director of the news portal The Rocket To The Moon and a frequent channel of the political and social positions of the circle closest to the vice president – who told last Friday in a radio interview that he had been vaccinated in that place thanks to a personal effort by Minister González García.
The admission of Verbitsky, 79, a long-time investigative journalist and human rights activist, and subsequent journalistic investigations have generated a wave of outrage that has been reflected in both social media and journalistic coverage.
Verbitsky has asked to leave as president of the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), which he has directed for more than 20 years, after knowing the negative reaction of the workers for their privileged vaccination. CELS is an influential body for the defense of human rights created in 1979, which had an outstanding performance during the last Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983) and is considered very close to Kirchnerism.
When the scandal broke out, the members of the organization rejected in a note the actions of its president. “The CELS team of workers rejects this or any other action or privilege that goes the other way. Nothing that happened represents the work and thinking of those of us who make up and do the organization in its day-to-day life,” says the note.
President Fernández claimed to have learned of this irregular situation from the media and demanded the resignation of González García. However, he later issued a series of tweets in which he stated that “a media scene of public derision has been set up” against those who were vaccinated. On tour in Mexico, he also charged against Justice and asked to end what he considered a “clowning”, alluding to the scandal. “There is no criminal offense in Argentina that says ‘whoever vaccinates someone who went ahead in line will be punished.’ This crime does not exist,” he insisted.
The position of Ginés González García has been filled by whoever was his second in the Ministry, Carla Vizzotti, who after assuming that the reported irregularities were a “punctual, incorrect and reprehensible situation”, denied that the Ministry had worked any ” VIP vaccination program “and said that it is” absolutely false “that 3,000 doses were destined for discretionary vaccinations. “There was a specific situation with ten people and President Alberto Fernández took an immediate and strong measure,” he said. Vizzotti was responsible for the distribution of vaccines in the 23 provinces and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires.
Although the minister has assured that she will be made available to Justice, she has also argued, in line with the president, that behind the scandal there is a political and media interest, and that some of those who appear as favored vaccinated “are personal strategic, relevant to sustain the functioning of the State “. Verbitsky was one of those registered as strategic personnel.
In the official lists published since last week (the first with 10 names and the second, with 70) are among others Carlos Zannini, attorney for the National Treasury, 66 years old, a trusted person of Fernández de Kirchner and registered as ” health personnel “, like his wife.
The young Minister of Economy, Martín Guzmán, was also secretly vaccinated, as did several of his collaborators, all of them under 40 years of age. Nobel economics disciple Joseph Stiglitz did not personally explain his case. From his Ministry they alleged that “Guzmán is a strategic official because of the international agenda he manages and because of the dimension of the decisions he makes” and he is planning a tour to the United States, Asia and Europe. The medical team of the Presidency of the Nation and the Ministry of Health recommended that both the minister and those who accompany him on the trips should be vaccinated “to avoid logistical difficulties that would lead to changes in the dynamics of the processes,” as reported elDiarioAR.
Also on the lists are former president Eduardo Duhalde and his wife, in-laws and the father of the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Sergio Massa (key to the Peronist armed forces in the province of Buenos Aires), officials and non-hierarchical personnel of the Ministry of Salud, the questioned union leader Hugo Moyano, his wife and a 20-year-old son.
A detail that was pointed out these days is that González García no longer had the support of Cristina Fernández, as it does seem to be the case of Vizzotti. The leader of the majority sector of the official alliance was also vaccinated, but she did so in public and at the beginning of the campaign to clear up doubts about the effectiveness of the Russian vaccine.
The now former Minister of Health, González García, and his nephew and former chief of staff at the Ministry, Lisandro Bonelli, are charged in court.
In a country with a relatively low level of vaccinated population (third in South America with 1.59% of the population, far from 15.12% in Chile and slightly closer to 3.27% in Brazil), only the people over 70 years of age are called to reserve their turn for vaccination. Other workers and those under 70 have an uncertain wait ahead.
At the same time, the purchase of 904,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine has been announced, which will be destined almost entirely to teachers, another strategic sector. Schools and institutes closed shortly after the school year started in March 2020 and classes have since been remote mode.
About 1.5 million students of different educational levels would be disengaged from schooling, according to calculations by the specialist Agustín Claus, researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (Flacso). There are an estimated 11 million students at the initial, primary and secondary levels throughout the country.