For those who want to know if a friend, a neighbor or a member of the Paraguayan political elite is one of the approximately 400,000 people vaccinated, the answer is only a few clicks away on the website of the Ministry of Health. There, a public database lists the person’s name, location of vaccination, type of vaccine, and number of doses. Scroll down and you will see ex-President Fernando Lugo got his first shot from Sputnik V on May 19 and Carlitos Vera, a well-known Paraguayan comedian, received the blow from Covaxin.
“It is a tool of citizen control,” said Lida Sosa, deputy health minister, in an interview. “There were people who looked at the list and reported people who got vaccinated who” were not eligible.
Paraguay’s degree of disclosure is reportedly banned in many countries with stricter privacy laws. But with only enough vaccines to fully immunize 7% of the population and a deeply rooted culture of corruption – Paraguay ranks second in South America in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index – there are many many concerns about people looking to head the line. The so-called VIP vaccination scandals involving senior government officials and politicians who used their influence to get vaccinated surreptitiously have rocked Argentina, Peru, Lebanon, Spain and the Philippines.
In Paraguay, people who get vaccinated can request not to be on the public list, but so far no one has requested anonymity, according to Sosa.
Valentin Sanchez, a 23-year-old Paraguayan software engineer living in the United States, is something of a celebrity at home thanks to his efforts to find irregular vaccinations.
Sanchez was writing a schedule to study the Department of Health’s vaccine data in April to satisfy his curiosity about how injections were given when his girlfriend suggested he research vaccine tricks as well. He found more than 500 suspected cases by comparing the names and personal identification numbers on the vaccination list with those in public databases of officials and politicians.
While many of them turned out to be people with physical disabilities eligible for injections, her investigation found that Mirta Gusinky, then a senator for the ruling Colorado party, had in turn been vaccinated. Gusinky resigned last month amid a public outcry. The same week, the Ministry of Health said it would return 88 unjustified vaccinations to the prosecution after examining 518 cases brought to its attention.
“Because we have so few vaccines and people don’t trust the process, the only way to give them some confidence is to go through this list,” Sanchez said. “People will use their influence if they can to get vaccinated. We are talking about a life and death situation.
The government has purchased or donated 981,400 doses of six different vaccines, with orders for nearly 8 million vaccines yet to be filled. The wealthy Paraguayans are not waiting and thousands of people have traveled to Miami or elsewhere in the United States to get vaccinated. Currently, only healthcare workers, pregnant women, and people 60 years of age or older are eligible for jabs in Paraguay.
The country, where the virus has killed more than 10,000 people, has the highest per capita death rate in the world over the past 7 days with nearly 122 deaths per 1 million population, according to data compiled by Bloomberg . It ranks # 6 for infections. The death rate since the start of the pandemic is among the 30 highest in the world.
The situation could remain critical until July, because a population “tired and fed up” ignores preventive measures such as social distancing and masks, according to Sosa, the deputy minister of health.
“This is reflected in our health system which is now saturated” with sick people, Sosa said. “We are in the most critical phase of the pandemic. “