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Gideon Long in Bogotá

Martín Vizcarra, Peru’s former president, is embroiled in a growing vaccine scandal that has already claimed two senior ministers, amid allegations that he and his wife were inoculated against coronavirus months before jabs were available to health workers and the public.

Pilar Mazzetti, health minister, and Elizabeth Astete, foreign minister, have both resigned over the issue. Mazzetti’s replacement, Oscar Ugarte, was sworn in over the weekend. He is the fifth health minister the Andean nation has had since the pandemic began.

Mazzetti quit over allegations that Vizcarra and his wife Maribel Díaz Cabello jumped the queue and received the vaccine produced by China’s Sinopharm late last year.

Vizcarra confirmed he had indeed received the jab on October 2 but said it was as part of a clinical trial. However, on Saturday, the university conducting the trial in conjunction with Sinopharm issued a statement saying that neither Vizcarra nor his wife were part of it.

Vizcarra responded with a statement on Sunday, saying the university’s declaration “causes me great surprise”. He said he had not revealed his role in the Sinopharm programme at the time because, as he was president, it would have “put at risk” the normal roll-out of the trial.

Former Peruvian president Martín Vizcarra speaks to the media in Lima

Vizcarra led Peru when the pandemic first hit. He was impeached in November over unproven corruption allegations but his replacement lasted less than a week in the midst of nationwide protests over the way he had assumed power.

The country is now under the leadership of Francisco Sagasti, interim president, who has vowed to guide it through to an election scheduled for April. On Sunday night he confirmed he had accepted Astete’s resignation after she admitted receiving a shot of the Sinopharm vaccine last month before it was available to health workers.

Ugarte, 76, becomes the latest in a long line of Peruvian health ministers. When the pandemic began, a surgeon, Elizabeth Hinostroza was in the job. Vizcarra replaced her with Víctor Zamora, an expert in public health. He was forced out by congress after four months and Mazzetti took over.

When Vizcarra was impeached she lost her job and was replaced by Abel Salinas, but he lasted just three days before Mazzetti was recalled.

Peru has been one of the worst-hit countries in Latin America by the pandemic and at one point had the highest death rate per head anywhere in the world. The country of 32m people has recorded more than 1.2m cases and nearly 44,000 deaths.

Last week it started vaccinating health workers with the Sinopharm vaccine.