AFP: PSG members got vaccinated first to 'protect' Duterte from COVID-19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, Decembr 28) — Members of the Presidential Security Group were the first ones among military men to be vaccinated against COVID-19, in a bid to "protect" President Rodrigo Duterte, the Armed Forces of the Philippines bared on Monday.

In a statement, AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the PSG, "primarily tasked to protect and secure the highest official of the land," already got vaccinated. He did not disclose what vaccines were provided and how they were administered.

"Because the safety of the President equates to national well-being, that security posture should necessarily include protecting the Commander-in-Chief from contracting the deadly virus from those he is constantly exposed to like the members of his security detail," Arevalo said, noting that the members, headed by BGen. Jesus Durante, have taken a bold step "to try the vaccine."

Arevalo earlier said during the Laging Handa briefing they have yet to verify reports about the vaccination and stressed "there is no AFP-sanctioned inoculation" among their members.

No less than Duterte himself claimed over the weekend that many Filipinos, including some military men, already received the still-unregulated Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, even without regulation from the Food and Drug Authority.

Arevalo then proceeded to thank Duterte for including the military in the first groups that will receive doses next to health workers, senior citizens, and indigent population in the country.

"We are thankful sa sinabi ng Pangulo na ang Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas ay bahagi po ng unang bibigyan ng bakuna dahil sa katotohanan, ang myembro ng AFP ay kasama sa mga frontliners," he noted.

[Translation: We are thankful for what the President said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines is among those who will first receive the vaccine, because in truth, members of the AFP are among the frontliners.]

Earlier in the day, Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana confirmed in a radio interview that some military men already got vaccinated, although he himself has not gotten the shot.

"Hindi ko maibigay ang accurate number [ng naturukan] but I confirm that some of our members ang nabakunahan..." he revealed in an interview over DWIZ, adding he was not aware what vaccine they received.

[Translation: I could not give the accurate number of those inoculated but I confirm that some of our members were vaccinated.]

Asked during the interview if the inoculation was a decision made by higher ups in the AFP or in Malacanang, Sobejana said: "First, our President is our commander in chief sa (in the) Armed Forces of the Philippines. I should say it's from the chain of command of the Armed Forces."

READ: COVID-19 immunization program to prioritize epicenters, vaccination hubs in police and military camps eyed

In a message to CNN Philippines on Monday night, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he has not received the vaccine, but the PSG received theirs in advance.

"I have not been vaccinated... I can confirm that the whole PSG had their vaccination several weeks ago. Other soldiers have not been vaccinated," he said.

It was Interior Secretary Eduardo Año who first raised in a radio interview on Monday that he knows some PSG and Cabinet members who have also been inoculated against the virus.

Meanwhile, in his noontime briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defended the military's use of unregistered vaccines and noted they were likely donated by an unidentified source.

Health experts over the weekend warned the public against the use of unregistered vaccines, with possible dangers including lack of knowledge about the injected product that would make it difficult for physicians to treat patients who may experience negative reactions.

So far, the FDA has not yet authorized any COVID-19 vaccine for rollout in the Philippines. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez previously told Duterte the country is also working out deals with more Western vaccine developers aside from China's Sinovac which was reported to have a 50% efficacy rate.

American corporation Johnson & Johnson, British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, Russia's Gamaleya Institute, and India's Novavax are among developers with current candidate vaccines for next year's vaccination, he said.

US-based drug manufacturer Pfizer, which recorded a 95% efficacy rate, has also applied for emergency use authorization of its coronavirus vaccine in the country.

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