Argentina's current Deputy Health minister Carla Vizzotti, will be appointed Minister on Saturday following the Friday resignation of Ginés González García, who had organized at the ministry a VIP Covid-19 vaccination hall for government officials, friends and family.
González García, a surgeon by training and with a long political active career, had been a member of the original cabinet of his close friend, president Alberto Fernandez when he took office in December 2019. He was in charge of the program to purchase the vaccines and organize the immunization campaign starting with sanitary staff, security forces and the over 65, but some Argentines, particularly if they are Kirchnerites, are more equal than others.
However strangely enough the VIP hall to inoculate friends and family, was exposed precisely by a journalist Horacio Verbitsky, also a close friend and supporter of the current Kirchnerite administration, who confessed that although he was skeptical about the effectiveness of the vaccines, after several members of his family tested positive to Covid-19, including one death, and with 79 years old, he decided to call his good old friend González García to ask for guidance, or rather jump the queue.
In effect, as events unfold, allegedly when the first batches of the Sputnik vaccine reached Argentina, some 3,000 doses were left aside to provide for the VIP inoculation. Who was running the scheme and the vaccination calendar was Lisandro Bonelli, 44, Health ministry cabinet chief and nephew of Gines García, and among the first to receive the shots. Quickly it became a mouth to mouth secret among government officials that if you wanted to be vaccinated, talk to Gines. At first the scheme worked from the Posadas Hospital, where vice-president Cristina Kirchner and president Alberto Fernandez, both above 65, were filmed while vaccination because the Sputnik Russian vaccine was resisted by a high percentage of the Argentine population. Russian president Putin at the time denied he was going to be vaccinated because the Sputnik had yet to be tested on those 70 and older.
But the VIP hall ended at the ministry and this week together with journalist Verbitsky, ten other privileged officials were given the Sputnik shots, among which a lawmaker, very close friend and advisor of president Fernandez, Eduardo Valdéz, and Senator Jorge Taiana. Apparently they were both asked by the president to be vaccinated and swabbed because they would be part of the delegation of the Argentine leader visit to Mexico as of next Sunday. It was also revealed that previously foreign minister Felipe Sola, 70, had also received first class treatment at the VIP hall.
However it also surfaced that among the famous and privileged to skip the immunization queue, currently suspended in several provinces because of lack of vaccines, was none else than the teamsters union boss Hugo Moyano, his wife and a 20 year old son. Mrs. Lilian Zulet de Moyano is closely linked to the hospital and medical supplies industry, and apparently allegedly had a kind of VIP vaccination branch for her immediate circle. Which if it proves to be correct, as the Argentine media speculates, it would be a serious crime since officially only the Argentine government manages the vaccines and inoculation program.
However last but not least the political contacts and influence of her husband Moyano, is unquestionable, to the extent that he and other members of his family simply ignored several court hearings on accusations of corruption, money laundering, private violence, among others.
In his resignation letter Gines García addressed to president Fernandez, the now ex minister regrets what happened and takes the blame but points out that all those vaccinated belonged to risk groups and the incident was a misunderstanding of his office, since he was outside of Buenos Aires when it happened.
Nevertheless he hopes that the policies he helped implement will be continued and that the vaccination campaign and combating the pandemic will be a success. He thanked the Argentine people and the Fernandez administration for their support and is committed to keep accompanying the government's policies in coordination with the different provinces, even those of different political color.
The fact is that only a year ago when Covid-19 was ravaging and expanding in Europe, Gines García was officially quoted describing the coronavirus as a new flu virus, that he did not expect to reach Argentina. Likewise his optimism as to the number of vaccines that Argentina would receive had to be constantly degraded.
Finally the big question, it is hard to believe that the Deputy Health minister was not aware of what was happening in the ministry and the VIP hall, but Argentine media point out, that although Gines García and Carla Vizzotti are relatives, they had not been in talking terms for some time. Dr. Vizzotti is an expert in vaccines and was responsible for checking and bringing the Russian vaccines from Moscow. This Saturday she was scheduled to again fly to Moscow, but will have to attend her swearing in ceremony.
Politically the whole incident is a blow for the government's policy ahead of the midterm elections next October which was planned on a fair, successful, impeccable national immunization program, plus a V recovery of the economy and another skirmish with the IMF. Besides even more significant public trust in the government's management of the vaccination campaign has been severely eroded.
Likewise it must be mentioned that the organized VIP vaccination hall scandal is not an isolated incident in Argentina, or other countries,, since there have been repeated claims of similar situations in several provinces and vaccination centers. Not to mention the Argentine rich and famous who travelled to Miami to be vaccinated and boasted about in their Facebook and twitter, forcing the Florida officials to amend legislation, particularly on priority definitions.