Argentine oil workers threaten strike over access to COVID-19 vaccines

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A worker looks on over a platform in a drilling rig at Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas drilling, in the Patagonian province of Neuquen, Argentina January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

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BUENOS AIRES, June 2 (Reuters) - Argentina's largest oil workers union said on Wednesday that it would call a strike if the government does not allow it to privately purchase COVID-19 vaccines, amid a second wave of infections sweeping the country.

The Rio Negro, Neuquen and La Pampa Private Oil and Gas Union, representing 24,000 workers, many of them in the Vaca Muerta shale oil formation, said it would wait for government authorization until the end of next week. If permission to purchase vaccines is not granted, it said it would call a strike.

"Next Friday the 11th, if there are no answers to our request, we are going to withdraw from our jobs to protect the health of all our colleagues," the union's leader, Guillermo Pereyra, said in a statement.

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So far, vaccines in the South American country are being distributed to seniors and priority workers only.

"We do not want to get vaccinations from anyone or to be assigned items that are intended for the elderly, educators, health personnel or people at risk. We are willing to pay for them," he added.

Argentina has seen record numbers of new daily infections in recent weeks. The country has reported a total of 3.82 million COVID-19 cases and 78,733 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The government has been criticized for overseeing a slow vaccination process, which has accelerated in recent days. The Health Ministry reported on Wednesday that a total of 12.8 million doses had been administered in a country of 45 million inhabitants.

A plea for access to vaccines led to days of tension in the country's main ports when a strike by maritime unions recently paralyzed the movement of cargo ships. The workers halted the strike when the government granted them priority vaccine status.

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Reporting by Eliana Raszewski; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Peter Cooney

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