Over 100,000 Chinese workers in PH received unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines, says civic leader

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 4) — More than 100,000 Chinese nationals in the country have already been vaccinated against the coronavirus despite the absence of regulatory approval, according to civic leader Teresita Ang-See.

She bared this in a virtual media forum on Monday, adding that the vaccination started as early as November. This prevalence of Chinese workers receiving unregistered vaccine shots, however, only came to light in mid-December when one of those supposedly immunized still caught the virus.

Ang-See said she viewed the vaccination as a "positive" development as this could help prevent transmission in the country.

"Okay lang saakin na ma-bakunahan sila, kasi [It's okay with me that they are vaccinated, because] we don't have much control with them," she said. "Wala naman tayong [We don’t have] basis to touch base with them, especially the POGO (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator) workers. So, I'm glad that they are being vaccinated because it protects us also if they are protected."

However, she also raised concerns on the legality and safety of the early inoculation.

"It's just that the worry nasa'n ang polisiya mo? 'Yung worry na they're breaking our laws, that's one," she said.

She noted that since no vaccine has been approved to date by the country's Food and Drug Administration, there might be lapses in the operations, such as in the process of administering the vaccine, as well as its handling and storage.

During the Laging Handa briefing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Health department is already coordinating with the FDA, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Customs to look into the issue.

"Kasama po ito sa imbestigasyon na isasagawa ng ating mga regulatory agencies, ng FDA, ng NBI at Bureau of Customs para matugunan itong mga aspeto na nakapalibot dito sa usapin ng alleged injection of unauthorized, unlicensed, unapproved COVID-19 vaccines," he said.

[Translation: This is included in the investigation being done by our regulatory agencies, the FDA, the NBI and the Bureau of Customs to address all matters surrounding the issue of the alleged injection of unauthorized, unlicensed, unapproved COVID-19 vaccines.]

In a separate briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque downplayed the issue.

"Kung totoo man, eh di mabuti, (If it were true, then good, now we have) 100,000 less possible carriers of the COVID-19," he said.

The Department of Justice on Monday authorized the NBI Special Action Unit to start the investigation on the "importation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, administration, and inoculation of COVID-19 vaccines" that are not yet authorized in the country. The probe will include reports on vaccinated POGO workers.

"Section 11 of the FDA law prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, and promotion of any health product that is unregistered with the FDA, and Section 12 thereof imposes the penalty of fine and/or imprisonment," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters in a text message.

"On the other hand, persons who knowingly or willfully administer and unregistered vaccine may be held liable under the Medical Practice Act of 1959," he added.

Duque said they also tapped the Professional Regulation Commission to crack down on doctors who administered the unauthorized vaccines to members of the Presidential Security Group and some Cabinet officials.

"Nakikipag-ugnayan ho ang Departamento ng Kalusugan sa Professional Regulation Commission para tingnan po ang kakalabasan ng investigation kung sino man ang mananagot," he said.

[Translation: The Department of Health is coordinating with the PRC to look into the results of the investigation and identify who should be responsible.]

READ: DOH to revoke licenses of doctors caught injecting unregistered COVID-19 vaccines 

He added they will also check the condition of PSG members who were vaccinated for possible "adverse effects."

The FDA has not yet authorized any COVID-19 vaccine for rollout in the Philippines. But last week, the Armed Forces of the Philippines bared that close-in security and official escorts of Duterte first got doses to "protect" him from COVID-19. The military then bared that no less than Duterte himself ordered the vaccination.

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

On Sunday, Vice President Leni Robredo said officials covering up for the unauthorized distribution and administration of unauthorized vaccines should just step up and make themselves accountable for the issue, to avoid the "wrong message" about the government's priorities.

READ: Robredo to gov't: No more cover-ups, be accountable for unauthorized vaccination