The hope brought by the arrival of the first vaccines in South America is hardening into anger as inoculation campaigns have spiraled into scandal, cronyism and corruption, rocking national governments and sapping trust in the political establishment.
Four ministers in Peru, Argentina and Ecuador have resigned this month or are being investigated on suspicion of receiving or providing preferential access to scarce coronavirus shots. Prosecutors in those countries, and in Brazil, are examining thousands more accusations of irregularities in inoculation drives, most of them involving local politicians and their families cutting in line.
As accusations of wrongdoing ensnare more dignitaries, tension is building in a region where popular outrage with graft and inequality have spilled in recent years into raucous protests against the political status quo. The frustration could find an outlet in the streets again — or at the polls, shaping voter decisions in Peru’s elections in April and other upcoming races.
“They all knew that patients have been dying,” Robert Campos, 67, a doctor in Lima, Peru, said of the country’s politicians. “And they vaccinated all their little friends.”
The anger at powerful line cutters has been amplified by the scarcity of the vaccines. South America, like other developing regions, has struggled to procure enough doses as rich nations bought up most of the available supply.
Dr. Campos said he did not make the vaccination list when limited doses arrived for hospital staff last week.
South America was shattered by the virus, accounting for nearly a fifth of all pandemic deaths worldwide — 450,000, according to the official tally — despite representing about 5 percent of the world’s population. Mortality data suggests the pandemic’s real toll on the region is at least double the official numbers.
The virus also collapsed national health care systems, pushed millions into poverty and plunged the region into its worst economic crisis in modern history.
Despite the heavy toll, the pandemic shored up public support for most of the region’s governments as several offered financial support to their populations and called for unity.
The vaccine scandals could bring this good will to an end, heralding a new wave of instability, analysts warn.
“People find it much more difficult to tolerate corruption when health is at stake,” said Mariel Fornoni, a pollster in Buenos Aires.