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ARGENTINA | 27-02-2021 07:21

Carla Vizzotti takes up reins of Health Ministry

Former health access secretary, 48, is a vaccine specialist best known for being the public face of the government’s daily coronavirus briefings.

Carla Vizzotti, 48, who replaced the disgraced Ginés González García last weekend as Argentina’s new health minister, is a vaccine specialist who graduated from the Universidad del Salvador in 1997, where she specialised in the control of infectious diseases, clinical medicine and social security systems.

A strong supporter of the battle for free, legal and safe abortion in Argentina, her public profile has risen considerably during the coronavirus pandemic, with the official serving as the face of the Health Ministry’s daily press briefings on the evolution of the virus in Argentina.

Vizzotti founded the Sociedad Argentina de Vacunología y Epidemiología (SAVE), which she still heads, as well as previously directing the Centro de Estudios para la Prevención y Control de Enfermedades Transmisibles (CEPyCET) at the Universidad ISALUD. 

She has also worked as a health strategy analysis consultant for the Fundación Huésped (an NGO created to respond to HIV/AIDS), as well as advising the Social Welfare and Public Health Committee of the Chamber of Deputies. 

Vizzotti has also been an honorary professor at Córdoba University since 2019. In her acceptance speech, she declared that: “Vaccines are free because they are a sign of equity and responsibility from the State; and they are mandatory because they represent a social good that is above the individual.”

Into politics 

Her Health Ministry career began with heading its Dirección Nacional de Control de Enfermedades Inmunoprevenibles (DiNaCEI) in 2007-2016, a period including both terms of the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner presidency. During that period (which included the A-H1N1 swine flu pandemic of 2009) she broadened the calendar of free and compulsory vaccination to include 19 vaccines in total. 

But in late 2016 this department was merged into others by then-health minister Jorge Lemus under the Mauricio Macri administration and she was out of a job. Claiming to be a purely technical official, Vizzotti attributed her removal to “political motives.”

Between 2013 and 2019 the immunisation expert also technically advised the World and Pan-American Health Organisations in that area, the first Argentine woman in that capacity.

Within that period, she was also a member of the Founding Council of the International Association of Immunisation Managers (IAIM) from 2013 to 2015 and the Directive Committee of the Sociedad Argentina de Infectología (2013-2018), remaining on the latter’s vaccine committee.

Vizzotti continues as a member of the Consultative Committee of the Vaccine Acceptance Research Network (VARN), the Sabin Institute and the Sociedad Latinoamericana de Infectología Pediátrica (SLIPE) since 2018.  

In 2005 she created NomiVac, the Registro Federal de Vacunación Nominalizado containing all the data of vaccinated persons.

Public profile

Days after the Alberto Fernández administration took office in 2019, Vizzotti was appointed to lead the newly established Secretariat of Health Access. 

Effectively serving a deputy minister, Vizzotti played a central role during the coronavirus pandemic with a high public profile, for which she was specifically praised on January 17 by Cabinet Chief Santiago Cafiero as “a key official in this government.” 

She personally took charge of the negotiations with Russia for the arrival of the first doses of the Sputnik V vaccine in December, as promised by President Fernández.

According to Pagina/12, González García is a friend of Vizzotti's father and she considers him to be a political mentor. Yet the newspaper assures, quoting unnamed sources, that "there had been differences" between the duo, prior to the 'VIP vaccination' scandal.

In her 15 months as deputy minister, Vizzotti has been adept at placing family in the portfolio, even when lacking the necessary experience, journalist Eduardo Feinmann has alleged.

Her brother Pablo heads Institutional Relations at the Ministry as well as advising his sister, receiving a top salary plus a supplement, while his wife, Melina Natalia García Luciani, and his in-laws Román and Barbara García Luciani are all contracted by the Ministry.

Following Vizzotti’s promotion, Antonela Volpe Onreita, head of the Hospital Geriátrico Cardenal Pironio in Rauch, will now head the government’s vaccination campaign. 

In the wake of the ‘VIP vaccine’ scandal, Vizotti vowed to guarantee “fairness” to vaccines for all citizens.

“We will strengthen the tools and actions that guarantee fairness in access to vaccines, monitoring compliance with the planned process,” she said in a post on Twitter.

“It is the president’s decision that we carry out the largest vaccination plan in our history with the greatest speed and offer each Argentine the peace of mind that all vaccines are administered according to precise sanitary criteria.”

– TIMES with agencies

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