Palace defends military’s use of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 28) — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday confirmed that several troops have been inoculated with coronavirus vaccines despite the absence of regulatory approval in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday revealed that "almost all soldiers" have been inoculated with China-made Sinopharm. The Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that members of the Presidential Security Group were the first ones within the military to be inoculated "to protect" the President. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also bared in an interview that several Cabinet members have also been vaccinated.

Roque said the soldiers willingly received vaccines that have not been allowed for emergency use in the country.

"Huwag niyo naman pong ipagkait sa ating mga sundalo kung nagkaroon sila ng proteksyon. Tanggapin na lang po natin na importante na ang kasundaluhan, mga nagbabantay sa ating seguridad ay ligtas na sa COVID nang magampanan nila ang kanilang trabaho," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: Do not deny the soldiers that protection. Let's accept that they need to be safe from COVID so they can perform their tasks of protecting the public.]

No COVID-19 vaccine has completed safety and efficacy review and received emergency use authorization from the country's Food and Drug Administration. The regulatory agency and the Department of Health have repeatedly warned the public on the dangers of taking unregistered vaccines.

"All vaccines should undergo the evaluation and regulatory process of our regulatory and expert bodies. We also reiterate that the use of unregistered products poses harm to a person's health and safety. This is why only vaccines which have been approved and found to be safe should be administered," DOH said in a statement.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo told CNN Philippines that under the current laws, those who are injected with unregistered vaccines will not be held liable.

"Ang bawal sa Pilipinas ay ang magbenta, import, magdistribute, at magdispense ng uregistered drugs. So once there are illicit activities like this, once we have a problem, ang magkakakaso dito ay importer, distributor, doktor na nagbakuna o healthcare na nagbakuna," he said.

[Translation: What's illegal is the sale, distribution, and administering of the unregistered drugs. The ones who will be charged are the importer, distributor, doctor or healthcare worker who gave the vaccine.]

Roque said that the drugs must have been donated and the vaccination was possibly a decision of the commanders and the soldiers. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, denied sanctioning the military-wide vaccination program.

In the vaccination road map laid out by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., troops and police are fifth in line to receive vaccines. Frontline health workers were supposed to be the first priority in the program. It is followed by indigent senior citizens, other senior citizens, remaining indigent population, then the uniformed personnel — as constantly reiterated by Duterte. With the recent development, troops were bumped up to receive the first doses of vaccines that reached the Philippines.

The presidential spokesperson also said he has no personal knowledge if Duterte has been inoculated with any drug to protect him from COVID-19.