'VIP vaccination' bypassed health workers, mocks regulatory process â groups
File — Healthcare workers wave to residents of an adjacent condominium who showed support to frontliners.
The STAR/Edd Gumban

'VIP vaccination' bypassed health workers, mocks regulatory process — groups

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - December 29, 2020 - 10:02am

MANILA, Philippines — Health workers and advocates slammed the early COVID-19 vaccination given to President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail and members of the Cabinet despite the absence of regulatory approval and despite an earlier announcement that medical frontliners are top priority for vaccination.

No vaccine has received the approval of the country’s Food and Drug Administration, which is required before it can be rolled out. But the Armed Forces of the Philippines confirmed that soldiers in the Presidential Security Group have been inoculated with an unregistered Chinese-made COVID-19.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año also said that some Cabinet officials have been also vaccinated, although he has since revised this in an interview on ANC to say only one member of the Cabinet received the jabs.

READ: Roque justifies soldiers getting jabs of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine

In remarks last Saturday that had officials scrambling to explain on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte said almost all soldiers have received vaccines.

"Halos lahat ng sundalo natusukan na (Almost all soldiers have been vaccinated.). I have to be frank and I have to tell the truth. I will not foist a lie. Marami nang nagpatusok and lahat (Many have been vaccinated)," he said then.

Health workers bypassed

Under the government’s prioritization scheme of vaccine recipients, healthcare workers will be the first to get COVID-19 vaccines. They are followed by senior citizens, indigent Filipinos and state forces.

"Clearly, if it is indeed true that soldiers and PSG staff were vaccinated, then 24 million health workers and patients were bypassed, and especially leapfrogged by those not even listed yet were able to receive it illegally," the Coalition for People’s Right to Health said.

Robert Mendoza, national president of Alliance of Health Workers, said health workers and military personnel should be administered vaccines and “not one (sector) only being prioritized.”

Although health workers and solders serve as frontliners, medical workers face greater risk because of their exposure to patients, stressed Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of Filipino Nurses United.

“Health workers face greater risks because they take care of patients face to face, 24/7, every day, real time. It hurts because the government declared that we are the first priority… How can we help save lives when we are all sick and most vulnerable?” Andamo said in a mix of English and Filipino.

RELATED: 'We're calling for help, not a revolution,' health workers tell Duterte

‘Mockery’ of regulatory process

CPRH also condemned the “blatant” disregard of existing laws and processes following the use of the unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine on soldiers and on at least one Cabinet member.

The manufacture, importation, sale and distribution of unauthorized vaccine are prohibited under the law.

It is not known how the vaccine was secured or the number of doses received.

“Even if these vaccines were somehow donated to these government officials, ethics and FDA policies should have prevented this affront to our institutional integrity,” CPRH said.

“By condoning the illegal vaccination, not only was the health of the vaccinated put at risk, but the entire vaccination effort itself has been undermined by vested interests. Once again, the people’s health is sacrificed for the convenience and privilege of a few,” it added.

The FDA and the Department of Health cautioned the public against the purchase and use of unregistered vaccines.

“As of date, the FDA has not issued any Emergency Use Authorization to any vaccine for COVID-19. Without proper authorization, there is no guarantee on the safety, quality and efficacy of said vaccine as the same has not undergone the required technical evaluation by the FDA,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo said.

Only Pfizer has so far applied for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

More than 470,000 cases of coronavirus, including over 9,000 deaths, have been reported in the Philippines and officials fear a surge in infections after the holiday season.

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