Peru probing fresh allegations of preferential COVID vaccine access

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LIMA (Reuters) – Peru said on Wednesday it was investigating allegations of ‘VIP’ preferential access for COVID-19 vaccines in a hard-hit region of the Amazon, just weeks after prosecutors said hundreds of top officials elsewhere in the Andean nation had received shots before they were available to the public.

Loreto regional governor Elisban Ochoa told reporters at least 64 people, including government officials, had jumped the line in the remote Loreto region to receive early jabs of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Peru’s Deputy Minister of Public Health, Percy Minaya, said such access to inoculations was “unacceptable” in a television interview, and vowed further investigation and possible criminal charges.

Authorities launched a probe into a similar, but wider-reaching, scandal in February after prosecutors and media reports alleged that nearly 500 Peruvian officials received vaccine doses outside of clinical trials and before the national immunization program began. Outrage over the revelations prompted Peru’s health and foreign ministers to quit.

The far-flung Amazon city of Iquitos, in the Loreto region, began inoculating the elderly with the Pfizer vaccine a week ago. But Ochoa said health authorities inoculated two mayors, two former mayors and other local officials who did not meet the qualification.

“It is outrageous that officials and public servants violate trust and provisions and that, for their own benefit, they have been vaccinated irregularly,” said Peru’s Comptroller General in a statement.

Peru has been hit by a second wave of coronavirus infections in recent weeks that has spotlighted the urgency of the vaccination campaign. The country has thus far vaccinated around 500,000 people, health officials have said.

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