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6 Jan, 2021 16:41

Malfunction or sabotage? Probe launched in Argentina after 400 Sputnik V jabs spoiled in possible ‘attack’

Malfunction or sabotage? Probe launched in Argentina after 400 Sputnik V jabs spoiled in possible ‘attack’

Argentinian authorities have launched an investigation after 400 Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine doses were lost to thawing overnight on Monday. Prosecutors believe it might have been a deliberate “attack.”

The town of Olavarria had to abruptly interrupt its vaccination program on Monday when it was discovered that 400 doses of Russia’s pioneering Sputnik V vaccine stored in a local oncological hospital were rendered unusable due to thawing.

Healthcare workers that arrived to collect the vaccine on Monday discovered that the temperature in a freezer the vials were stored in was set to plus 26 degrees Celsius (78.8 degrees Fahrenheit). The Russian vaccine needs to be kept between minus 18 and minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 0.4 and minus 40 Fahrenheit) to stay viable.

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Local health officials have filed a complaint with the police over the incident and authorities have launched a probe into the case. Regional prosecutors suspect that it might have been an act of sabotage. 

“There are two possibilities: a technical issue or an attack,” Marcelo Sobrino, the chief prosecutor for the Judicial Department of Azul, told the local media, adding that both versions are being investigated.

Local medical officials, meanwhile, reported some even more puzzling circumstances surrounding the incident. A security camera overlooking the freezer was disabled at a certain point during the night on Monday, Ramiro Borzi, a local senior health official, said, adding that all other cameras were working as normal. Some “strange movements” were also recorded by other cameras, the official said, adding that he also does not rule out that it was “an intentional action.” 

The director of the provincial hospital network, Juan Sebastian Riera, denied that a blackout could have led to this unfortunate turn of events. “There were no power outages,” he told journalists, adding that each vaccination point is equipped with a freezer, a control thermometer and a special backup generator designed to maintain the correct temperature in case of a blackout.

“Obviously, something has been manipulated there,” Riera said, calling it a “very serious” incident. 

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Prosecutors plan to analyze the data from the cameras to find out who entered the area over the weekend. They said there are no particular suspects so far but they will investigate “the entire institution; all the people who had access to that place.” 

Healthcare workers who were due to receive the Russian vaccine this week, will now be referred to neighboring municipalities to get the jab. 

Argentina launched its nationwide vaccination campaign on December 29, giving priority to medical staff. It was launched after 300,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine arrived from Russia.

The start of the vaccination program was somewhat marred by a leaked report that suggested a handful of volunteers involved in the Russian vaccine testing phase had developed more serious side effects than mild flu-like symptoms. However, an Argentinian infectious disease expert was quick to note these symptoms were “almost certainly” not related to the jab. 

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Still, the vaccination campaign was met with skepticism by some opposition politicians, who expressed doubts over the effectiveness of Sputnik V. Speculation and even fake news reports also circulated in Argentinian social media platforms, according to the local media. 

The authorities said they would closely monitor the health of all vaccinated people and would provide information to the public when available.

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