Roque justifies soldiers getting jabs of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine

Roque justifies soldiers getting jabs of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine
Photo dated April 28 shows members of Philippine Army joining the distribution of relief goods from the Asian Development Bank in Batasan Hills in Quezon City.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:47 p.m.) — There is nothing wrong with people, including military personnel, getting Sinopharm vaccines that have not been authorized for use in the Philippines since the law only prohibits distribution and sale of unapproved products, the Palace said Monday.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque made the claim in response to a claim made by President Rodrigo Duterte that many in the Philippines have received the vaccine created by Chinese government-owned Sinopharm.

The Food and Drug Administration has not authorized the use of any COVID-19 vaccines and, in any case, uniformed personnel are fifth in a list of sectors that a government vaccination program against COVID-19 is supposed to prioritize.

"Hindi pinagbabawal ng batas ang magpaturok ng hindi rehistrado. Ang bawal, yung distribution at pagbebenta," Roque is quoted by state-run Philippine News Agency as saying.

(It's not illegal to be vaccinated with an unregistered vaccine. What is prohibited is the distribution and sale.)

The FDA Act prohibits  "the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertising, or sponsorship of any health product that is adulterated, unregistered or misbranded."

It is yet unclear where the soldiers got the Sinopharm vaccines from. The Armed Forces of the Philippines said it does not have an official vaccination program.

Roque said the vaccination "must have been the decision of the commanders and the soldiers" adding that as far as he knows, the vaccination was free.

Stressing that being vaccinated with the unauthorized vaccine is a personal choice for the soldiers involved, Roque said that Sinopharm is the most widely-used vaccine "maybe that's why the soliders were assured [of its safety]."

According to Chinese government-run Global Times, China's drug regulators only accepted Sinopharm's application for market rollout of its COVID-19 vaccines on December 24, a move that "marks a closer step to China's approval for this vaccine candidate to combat the coronavirus."

"Chinese experts predicted that conditional approval could be granted from January 1, 2021," Global Times also reported.

Philippine FDA Director General Rolando Domingo said last Saturday at a meeting of the coronavirus task force that China has already granted Emergency Use Authorization to Sinopharm, which will allow the use of unapproved vaccines. He said the vaccine would still need to go through evaluation by Philippine experts.

Domingo also said Saturday that the FDA has been launching raids against the use of unauthorized vaccines like Sinopharm.

"We didn't catch anyone. We had three raids in Makati and in Binondo but we failed to catch anyone," he said in Filipino.

In a handwritten note, detained Sen. Leila De Lima asked how the unauthorized vaccinations were allowed to happen.

"How did it happen that some soldiers, and perhaps select civilians, have already gotten an advance vaccination with a China-made vaccine? Did any of the relevant authorities, i.e.,[DOH], FDA, [Department of Science and Technology] and/or [Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases], give its official go-signal for that? And why a belated disclosure?" De Lima, who is detained on drug charges that she says are politically motivated, said. 

Despite the FDA raids, Roque insisted that the use of unauthorized vaccines is OK. — Jonathan de Santos

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