'Bad precedent': Experts seek unlikely accountability over unauthorized vaccinations

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
'Bad precedent': Experts seek unlikely accountability over unauthorized vaccinations
President Duterte is escorted by the Presidential Security Group during his arrival at the Batasang Pambansa for his State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2020. The AFP has confirmed that members of the PSG have been given vaccines ‘to ensure that the President is safe from all threats, including COVID-19.’
Presidential photo

MANILA, Philippines — Experts have urged Food and Drug Administration officials to hold to account people behind the unregulated Sinopharm vaccination of military and Presidential Security Group personnel, warning that it may undermine vaccination efforts in the country and pose an effect to those inoculated in the long run. 

That is unlikely given the Palace's continued defense of the secret vaccinations and the leeway that government officials have been given in matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vaccinations — using doses that were donated by someone that nobody in the administration seems to know — has earned criticism from Filipinos, including health workers who said they were bypassed despite promises by government that they would be the first to receive the vaccines.

The Palace has said health workers remain a priority for vaccination but that the donated vaccines are not part of government's planned program.

No COVID-19 vaccine has secured approval from FDA officials so far, with clinical trials yet to begin and government still not signing any procurement deals with drugmakers.

FDA chief Eric Domingo has warned too of the risk in getting unregulated doses.

RELATEDFor everyone else: DOH, FDA warn vs use of unauthorized vaccine

Bad precedent

Dr. Benjamin Co, an infectious diseases expert, told One News' "The Chiefs" on Monday night that failure to identify who was responsible could set a bad precedent for "other drug distributors, manufacturers and those who plan to bring any drug into the Philippines."

"We have to remember there is one whole process that needs to get evaluated," he said in mixed English and Filipino. "We need to divulge who slipped the vaccines inside the country, how many doses and how it was done."

Malacañang has not denied involvement and instead justified the use on AFP personel and on the president's security detail.

Co said using unregulated vaccines — with no assurance that it was kept in cold chain storage, could have unintended effects on those inoculated, including a "false belief" that they are already safe from the coronavirus.

"What's going to happen eventually is the patients [could] get a side effect or no effect," he said. "If there's no effect, it gives you the false belief that you are protected when in fact you did not receive anything, so it puts clear and present danger on the lives of the president and the families of those who got immunized."

Co added: "It's possble that the president did not know but all of a sudden since it's already there on the table and it could be given. I don't know whose bright idea this was but it was wrong from the get go and it is still wrong in the end."

Government has released its list of the 24.7 million Filipinos it aims to prioritize in getting the vaccines in early 2021, of which, supposedly 1.76 million health workers are the first to be inoculated. 

State forces, comprising over 525,000, are fifth in place in the said list, but as it seems, the president has made true with his promise of prioritizing the military which he had long made.

RELATED1.76 million health workers will be first to get COVID-19 vaccines

The first vaccine seen to arrive in the Philippines is China's Sinovac by March 2021, per officials' estimate. The administration's plan to procure 25 million of its doses has also come under fire, after it was revealed that its efficacy rate is at 50%, compared with Pfizer's at 90%.

Regulators from the United Arab Emirates have reported that Sinopharm had an 86-percent efficacy rate in trials in the said country. In China, at least a million were also reported to have been vaccinated with the vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm.

DOJ role sought 

Dr. Tony Leachon, a public health expert who once served as an advisor to the coronavirus taks force, suggested that the justice department step since the FDA lacks police powers. 

He added that the incident could have went against the country's law on counterfeit drugs, which prohibits importation, trafficking and distribution of unregulated medicines. 

"Why not contact Secretary Menardo Guevarra and ask him for evaluation of what happened and if there were violations?" he said in English over the same interview. "If you have him with you that would be a huge help."

Leachon said the DOJ can order the National Bureau of Investigation to help in conducting a probe.

Aside from Palace's reasoning and military officials' confirmations, there had been no other details so far on how the unregulated inoculation were carried out. 

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., himself a retired military chief, has not commented on the situation, neither has Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

The incident adds to the string of controveries the administration has figured in on the issue of coronavirus vaccination, following the supposed botched deals with Pfizer and on the criticism that it was late into securing doses for the country. 

RELATEDBotched COVID-19 vaccine talks for Pfizer's doses escalate

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