The controversial statements about the vaccines against Covid-19 by the Minister of Health of Colombia, Guillermo Jaramillo, were made yesterday during the session of the First Committee of the Senate. In a heated intervention, the minister said that the Covid-19 vaccine had been an experiment and that Colombians who received vaccines other than Sinovac were part of that trial.
These controversial statements were made in the context of an investigation into the waste of nearly 8 million vaccine doses, which occurred between February 2022 and August 2023, spanning the end of Iván Duque’s presidency and the first year of Gustavo Petro’s executive leadership.
The vaccines were brought in “without permission”
Jaramillo stated that, with the exception of the Sinovac vaccine of Chinese origin, all others had entered the country “without permission” and were mere experiments without demonstrated effectiveness.
“We are playing with the lives of Colombians. We cannot be a factor in experimentation. Everyone who is vaccinated today, except for those who received Sinovac (…) all the vaccines entered here without permission. We became part of an experiment. All Colombians who are vaccinated served for the largest experiment ever conducted in human history,” declared the Health Minister.
In this vein, Jaramillo pointed out that the vaccines in the Covid-19 Vaccination Plan underwent tests without solid scientific backing, potentially compromising the population’s health. The minister also demanded an end to experimenting with the humble population, “the Black, the Indigenous, and the poorest of this country: the farmers.”
Minister’s statements sow doubts
The controversial remarks by the Health Minister have sowed a sea of doubts and prompted a swift reaction from the scientific community and political opponents. Criticisms of Jaramillo have been forceful, holding him responsible for favoring unscientific theories and unnecessary doubts among the population.
In this regard, the Colombian Epidemiology Association has expressed its “total disagreement with the Health Minister’s assertions.” They assert that the vaccines used in the National Vaccination Plan underwent rigorous clinical trials and have the approval of international health authorities. However their assertions contradict the fact that the vaccines were only ever approved for ’emergency use’ precisely because they were developed in too short a time for them to be sufficiently trialled.
The association emphasizes the importance of ‘trusting in science and the vaccine development process’, claiming that these vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing COVID-19. They express concern about the impact the minister’s statements could have on public trust in vaccines and the vaccination campaign.
Former Health Minister during the pandemic’s most severe period, Fernando Ruiz, referenced the medical journal The Lancet, which stated that 14.4 million deaths were prevented in 185 countries between December 8, 2020, and December 8, 2021. Ruiz took the opportunity to once again criticize Guillermo Jaramillo’s healthcare reform, which he has been highly critical of since its inception. “The real experiment will be a healthcare reform passed without any evidence,” added the former minister on social media.
7.8 million expired vaccine doses
The context in which this controversy arises is in the discovery made by the outlet La Silla Vacía, where it was reported that 7.8 million doses ended up discarded in Colombia due to expiration. Some expired during the last months of Duque’s government (February-August 2022), and the majority during the first year of President Petro’s term (August 2022-August 2023).
In fact, the figures from the Ministry of Health show the evolution of vaccination over the last three years. While in the first three months of mass vaccination (February, March, and April 2021), 4.9 million doses were administered, in the same months of 2022, 11 million were administered. For the same period this year, the figure only reached 339,000 doses. The decline was drastic.
Meanwhile, the Colombian Association of Infectious Diseases (ACIN), which includes infectious disease doctors, microbiologists, and professionals in nursing and bacteriology, shared data on COVID-19 vaccination in Colombia. 47.5% of the population received one dose; 34.9% received a booster dose, and 6.5% have received two booster doses.
“Vaccines are the most cost-effective public health measure to save lives, prevent the spread of other diseases, and mitigate their impact on quality of life. Without vaccines, more people would have died, and the world would still be in quarantine and wearing masks,” stated ACIN.