Ecuador health minister resigns after criticism of coronavirus vaccine plan

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador's Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos addresses the media before healthcare workers administer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine on their colleagues, in Guayaquil, Ecuador January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Santiago Arcos

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean health minister Juan Carlos Zevallos tendered his resignation on Friday following accusations of irregularities in a pilot program for coronavirus vaccination that the government has been carrying out since January.

Zevallos is under an investigation by state prosecutors for mishandling the vaccine roll out after he participated in an inoculation effort at a nursing home where his mother lives.

His resignation follows scandals in Latin American countries including Peru and Argentina over nepotism and favoritism in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

“Given the current political situation, and in order to allow the continuity of the National Vaccination Plan, I present to you, Mr. President, the irrevocable resignation of (my) functions of Minister of Health,” Zevallos said in a letter that President Lenin Moreno published on Twitter.

The National Assembly had discussed impeaching Zevallos for “poor handling of the pandemic and a poor vaccination process.”

Ecuador in January launched a vaccination pilot program with doses purchased from Pfizer to inoculate medical personnel and elderly citizens living in nursing homes.

Moreno via Twitter defended Zevallos, who he appointed in March 2020 at the height of Ecuador’s epidemic in which hospitals and morgues overflowed in the city of Guayaquil and corpses were left uncollected on streets and in homes.

“I prefer to remember the minister who accepted the difficult task of managing the country’s health in the worst health crisis that Ecuador and the world have experienced,” Moreno wrote.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alistair Bell