FDA, DOH to probe Mon Tulfo's use of smuggled Sinopharm jabs
President Rodrigo Duterte meets with Ramon Tulfo Jr. in Malacañan Palace on Nov. 6, 2017.
Presidential Photo/Karl Norman Alonzo

FDA, DOH to probe Mon Tulfo's use of smuggled Sinopharm jabs

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - February 24, 2021 - 12:55pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:31 p.m.) — The Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday they will investigate the inoculation of special envoy to China Mon Tulfo with smuggled COVID-19 jabs.

Tulfo first made the admission that he received smuggled Sinopharm shots last year in a column last Saturday, then in an interview with One News Tuesday. He said he wanted to test the vaccine on himself because he was applying to be a local Sinopharm distributor.

The columnist said he took the vaccine with some “Cabinet-level” officials, a senator and some members of the Presidential Security Group.

The vaccine developed by a Chinese state-owned biotech firm has no authorization for emergency use in the Philippines. It has not even submitted application for such approval.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the unauthorized vaccination activity will be referred to the agency’s regulatory enforcement unit for investigation.

“We are investigating this because it is not good that we learn that there are individuals who get vaccinated without going through the right process,” Domingo said in a Laging Handa briefing Wednesday.

In a separate briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the ongoing probe into illegal vaccination activities will also include Tulfo.

Agencies launched probes into the Presidential Security Group’s use of unregistered COVID-19 vaccines last year. Domingo said the FDA has yet to receive response from President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail about their queries.

The use of unregistered vaccines violates the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, which prohibits the distribution and administering of vaccines not yet approved by regulatory authorities.

The DOH and the FDA have been saying that the use of unregistered products poses harm to a person’s health and safety.

Local distributor

Tulfo said he has applied to be a local distributor of Sinopharm with a company called “Apollo.” He said the firm supposedly secured a contract with a Singapore subsidiary of Sinopharm.

He denied using his position as special envoy to apply for local distributorship and secure vaccine doses for himself, his drivers and his bodyguards.

Vergeire said individuals who are supplying illegally procured COVID-19 shots will be investigated. “If there will be violations, there will be sanctions.”

Conflict of interest

In a briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque avoided commenting on whether or not there is conflict of interest in Tulfo’s application to be a local distributor of the  Sinopharm vaccine.

“We have no opinion whatsoever. We leave that to the ombudsman,” Roque said. 

He added he did not know about the columnist's claim that the president got in touch with a representative of Sinopharm. 

“I don’t understand the big deal about the Mon Tulfo write-up. That’s an account of Mon Tulfo. If you want verification, please contact Mon Tulfo,” he also said. 

When asked if the Palace found the admission of unauthorized vaccination alarming, the presidential spokesperson replied: "I don’t have any reaction to that because I understand that during a pandemic, many want to have protection. But we’re telling everybody to wait for the product to undergo the proper process."

Tulfo argued there is no conflict of interest because he is a “private citizen,” claiming he is “technically not a government official” because his position as special envoy is only “honorific.”

In December last year, Duterte revealed that PSG members already got vaccinated against COVID-19 even if the FDA has yet to issue an EUA at the time. Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante, PSG commander, confirmed it, leaving health authorities surprised and the public enraged.

The FDA eventually issued a “compassionate use license” for the president’s security detail to take 10,000 Sinopharm shots last February 11.

Three vaccines have been approved for emergency use in the Philippines—Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sinovac—but so far none have been delivered and the government is under criticism over the delayed vaccine rollout.

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