MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Wednesday that a doctor used his influence to have his family members cut in line for early coronavirus vaccines, despite the fact that the first shots are reserved for front-line health-care workers.
López Obrador said the doctor used “influences to get the scarce vaccines, and called it “immoral.”
He didn’t specify what action might be taken against those involved, who were not identified, but said the case was under investigation and would be punished.-
Later, state health officials said in a statement the director of the Adolfo López Mateos Medical Center in Toluca would be sanctioned for getting two of his family members vaccinated.
In a statement, it said the Mexico state health department would sanction the doctor and then the case would be reviewed by the state comptroller. Officials said the filter determining who receives the vaccine would be strengthened.
Experts have expressed concern that theft, corruption or falsification could affect vaccination efforts in Mexico.
While the army was in charge of the site, it appears there may have been an error in the outside system used to set up appointments for the shot, creating confusion, in part because the vaccine has to be applied quickly after it is opened and unfrozen.
Mexico has received only about 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, not nearly enough to cover 1.4 million health care workers, though hundreds of thousands more doses are expected to arrive in coming weeks.
“A family that was not on the list to be vaccinated arrived and using influence, got vaccinated,” López Obrador said, noting they included “a doctor, his wife and I think one or two of his daughters.”
It was unclear whether the doctor himself would have been eligible to get the vaccine, because he reportedly worked at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients. But his family clearly was not.
Vaccines are to be given first to health care workers, then to the elderly, those with chronic diseases and teachers, before being made available to the general population.
The incident occurred at a center overseen by the army, which López Obrador has relied on to an unprecedented extent in his drive against corruption and favoritism because it is widely seen as being among the most professional, honest and trusted institutions in the country.
The army’s outsized role in running everything from building projects to tree nurseries has raised questions. And López Obrador said this month the army also will run the a major tourist train project and several airports, using any profits to finance military pensions.
At Mexico City’s main military base, a military doctor said Wednesday the army is only vaccinating personnel put on a list by civilian health authorities. But Maj. Alicia Juana Cornelio Mateos, a surgeon, said that people without appointments showed up anyway, trying to get one of the shots.
“We know that right now, because of the emergency in Mexico City, this is causing fear, people are frightened and that causes them to show up at the vaccination centers even though they do not have an appointment, and that obviously forces us to tell them that we cannot vaccinate them,” Cornelio Mateos said.
Mexico City is seeing the highest wave of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to date, and the city’s hospitals — where 89% of beds are occupied — are close to being overwhelmed.
But she defended the military’s impartiality.
“There is no preference given here. The president has ordered that those to be vaccinated in the first stage are personnel who are on the front lines fighting COVID-19,” said Cornelio Mateos. “The only military personnel here are those in charge of security, beyond that I do not see anyone in the military in line.”
“If we do not have a code to put military personnel in line for a vaccine, we cannot vaccinate them,” she added. “We are not the ones controlling this.”
On Thursday, December 31st, Dr. José Rogel Romero , director of the Medical Center “Lic. Adolfo López Mateos ”from Toluca, who used his influence so that his family received the COVID-19 vaccine beforehand, was officially separated from his position, this information was confirmed by the Social Communication coordinator of the Government of the State of Mexico, José Alberto Pérez.