Lorenzana admits Sinopharm vaccines used by Duterteâs security detail were smuggled
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

Lorenzana admits Sinopharm vaccines used by Duterte’s security detail were smuggled

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - December 30, 2020 - 10:29am

MANILA, Philippines — Amid continued uproar over the unauthorized inoculation of the president's top men, National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Thursday confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines used by the Presidential Security Group entered the country illegally.

"Yes, it’s smuggled," Lorenzana told ABS-CBN, referring to the Sinopharm vaccines used by the PSG, during a ceremony held in commemoration of Rizal Day.

"Because its not authorized to enter here. Only the government can authorize that through the [Food and Drug Administration],” he further explained.

'I don't know'

While Lorenzana knows the vaccines were smuggled, he copped to not knowing much else.

"As far as we knew then, the rumor spreading was that PSG had already been vaccinated. Who authorized it, we did not ask. It is only now that those facts are coming out that the vaccine is not yet authorized in the Philippines," he said in Filipino.

No coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the country's FDA — any inoculation effort thus far would have made use of an unauthorized vaccine. It is unclear if Lorenzana knows this.

In keeping with every single official questioned over the matter, Lorenzana maintained that he also did not know who gave the Sinopharm doses to the government.

Despite his position as defense secretary, he was also unwilling to weigh in on the PSG's invocation of its duty to defend the president to justify its bypassing of the law. "I don't know the answer to that," he said in Filipino when asked about the matter.

Illegal but 'justified'?

When asked if he would take action on the matter as defense secretary, Lorenzana implied that he would not be doing much at all. "PSG just really need to explain why they did that. It is justified. Anyway, the vaccine is not fake, it is real," he said.

Again, it is unclear why Lorenzana made this pronouncement regarding the Sinopharm vaccine. While it has received authorization for emergency use in some countries including the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and Morocco, the Peruvian government suspended its own trials citing a “serious adverse event” which occurred among the volunteers of its study. In addition to this, the Philippines has not conducted its own trials for the Sinopharm jabs and is not expected to receive any vaccines at all until March 2021.

"Maybe explain that to the FDA because they violated the FDA rules," the defense chief said in Filipino. FDA chief Eric Domingo said the move was done without consulting them or the health department, and even Secretary Francisco Duque III was surprised to find about the development.

Bureau of Customs spokesperson Vincent Maronilla said no communications were made to them that vaccines would be transported inside borders but stopped short of calling them smuggled, citing a lack of details. But, he recognized that if the items were misdeclared, it would be tantamount to technical smuggling — or, as defined by law in the Philippines, importing goods through "fraudulent, falsified or erroneous declarations."

Adding to public confusion, Brig. Gen. Jesus P. Durante, PSG commander, during an interview with ANC's "Headstart" on Thursday refused to reveal exactly how many members of the president's security detail have been inoculated. He also refused to reveal if he was among those who received the unregulated vaccine.

Immediately following Lorenzana's acknowledgement of the smuggling of the Sinopharm vaccines into the country, Sen. Francis Pangilinan slammed it as a continued consequence of what he called the lack of a coherent and equitable game plan on the control and management of the disease.

"It is unfortunate that even though there is vaccine czar [Carlito] Galvez who I believe is capable and should be in charge of the vaccine rollout, officials are still acting individually and have conflicting explanations on legality," he said in Filipino.

"We cannot do this individually. The lives of millions of our countrymen are at stake. The livelihoods of millions of our hungry countrymen also depend on economic recovery which depends on the proper implementation of the vaccine rollout nationwide. We can't make mistakes here," Pangilinan added.

RELATED: As gov’t execs take prohibited vaccines, Duterte asserts stance vs illegal drugs'Gov't-sanctioned black market': Hontiveros hits inoculation of VIPs with unauthorized vaccines

— with a report from Christian Deiparine

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: August 2, 2021 - 1:05pm

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France's Sanofi in partnership with the UK's GSK and is subject to a "final contract."

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

August 2, 2021 - 1:05pm

Cambodia began a roll out of COVID-19 vaccinations for teenagers in its capital Phnom Penh and three provinces Sunday, with Premier Hun Sen's grandchildren among the first to get the jab.

Several countries in Southeast Asia are currently experiencing a deadly COVI-19 resurgence largely driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which has set back the region's successes last year in curbing pandemic tolls.

While Cambodia appeared to have escaped the brunt of the virus last year, an outbreak first detected in February has steadily driven up the caseload to nearly 78,000.

On Sunday, the kingdom began vaccinating children between the ages of 12 to 17, starting the campaign in its capital Phnom Penh, as well as in the three hardest-hit provinces of Kandal, Koh Kong and Preah Sihanouk.

"The vaccination for children today is a key step to herd immunity in communities," said the Cambodian leader. — AFP

July 27, 2021 - 8:13am

The US Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday its more than 100,000 health care personnel would have to get COVID-19 shots, becoming the first federal agency to institute a mandate as California and New York City announced new vaccine requirements affecting workers. 

US President Joe Biden's administration had previously been reluctant to support such measures, but is now confronted with a Delta variant-driven surge that is sweeping mainly through America's tens of millions of unvaccinated.

"Whenever a Veteran or VA employee sets foot in a VA facility, they deserve to know that we have done everything in our power to protect them from COVID-19," said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a news release. — AFP

July 25, 2021 - 8:59am

Jordan's health ministry announces Saturday that Covid-19 vaccines will now be available for children aged 12 and above.

The ministry "has decided to lower the Covid-19 vaccination age to 12 years, starting from Sunday July 25" and without requiring an appointment, the ministry says in a statement on its Facebook page on Saturday.

"Vaccination will be optional, and those under 18 will be able to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with the consent of their guardian," the statement adds. — AFP

July 21, 2021 - 8:27pm

Covid-19 vaccine makers BioNTech and Pfizer say they had found a South African partner to produce their jab locally, the first such deal on the African continent.

The move comes amid growing criticism of vaccine inequality that has seen poor countries fall behind richer ones in the race to protect people from the coronavirus.

Under the agreement, Cape Town-based Biovac will complete the last step in the manufacturing process of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, known as "fill and finish", the companies said in a statement. — AFP

July 15, 2021 - 7:42pm

Half a million Covid-19 vaccines began shipping Thursday from the United States to Jordan in the latest stage of a global US effort to overcome the pandemic, officials said.

A senior White House official told AFP: "500,000 doses of Pfizer will begin to be shipped to Jordan from the United States. These doses arrive in Jordan on Saturday."

According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the doses are being sent in a direct arrangement with Jordan, rather than through the international Covax program. — AFP

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