Peru’s Foreign Affairs Minister Elizabeth Astete resigned on Sunday evening after announcing she received a dose of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and before the country began its vaccination rollout.
In a statement released on social media, Astete said that after being in contact with several officials who had tested positive for Covid-19 in December 2020 and January 2021, she had accepted an offer to receive a dose of the Sinopharm vaccine on January 22 from what she understood to be “the remaining doses of the batch held by the Cayetano Heredia University.”
Astete, 68, cited travel obligations for work and having to undergo Covid-19 testing after being in contact with people who had tested positive as factors that influenced her decision to get vaccinated in January.
In a statement, Astete said:
As a result of the recent disclosure about the vaccination of (former) President Vizcarra and his wife, as well as the understandable impact that this news had on public opinion, I am aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose.”
“I have submitted my resignation from the post of Foreign Affairs Minister to the President of the Republic.”
Astete’s resignation comes after local media reported last week that former President Martin Vizcarra and his wife, Maribel Diaz Cabello, were vaccinated while in office last October and did not disclose this information to the public.
On Thursday, Vizcarra said he had volunteered as one of the 12,000 people who were part of the Sinopharm vaccine trials.
But on Saturday, Cayetano Heredia University (UCH) — the leading university in charge of that trial — released a statement clarifying that Vizcarra and his wife were not part of the vaccine trial, which began in September.
Peru’s President Francisco Sagasti accepted Astete’s resignation on Sunday night and said on Twitter that the Health Minister had ordered an investigation into senior public officials getting doses of the vaccine.
“With the transparency and firmness that characterizes our Government, we will publish the results of the investigation and the information provided by Cayetano Heredia University’s Center for Clinical Studies,” Sagasti said.
Sagasti also confirmed the resignation of Vice Health Minister, Luis Suárez Ognio after local media reported that he also got vaccinated.
Speaking to local radio RPP on Sunday night, Sagasti expressed his indignation with the scandal and said that the doses that were used to vaccinate government officials were donated by Sinopharm — and were not part of the batch used for the trials led by UCH.
Peru became the first Latin American country to distribute China’s Sinopharm vaccine on February 9. Although other agreements have been finalized with Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/Astrazeneca, China’s Sinopharm vaccine is the only Covid-19 vaccine currently being distributed in the country.