Philippine Cabinet Members, Soldiers Get COVID-19 Vaccine Shots

Aie Balagtas See and Jojo Rinoza
Philippine Cabinet Members, Soldiers Get COVID-19 Vaccine Shots A city worker sprays disinfectant along the corridors of Malimgas Market in Dagupan City, Philippines, Oct. 15, 2020.
[Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]

Some Philippine cabinet members and an undisclosed number of soldiers have received shots of a COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Monday, although the country’s Food and Drug Administration indicated it had not yet approved the use of any coronavirus immunization.

During the weekend President Rodrigo Duterte said that “several soldiers” were given doses of a vaccine developed by Sinopharm, China’s state-owned drug firm – an assertion that his spokesman confirmed on Monday.   

Members of the Presidential Security Group – a special military detail tasked with guarding Duterte – were among those who received the vaccine, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said.

“I know some from the cabinet and from the PSG who have received the vaccine,” Año said on Monday.

The president did not get the vaccine, according to aides to Duterte.

The presidential palace sanctioned the vaccinations, said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the army chief, but he declined to say how many soldiers were immunized.

“Well, of course, our president is our commander-in-chief at the Armed Forces of the Philippines. I should say it’s from the chain of command of the Armed Forces,” Sobejana said in a radio interview Monday.

Those who were vaccinated did not show any “negative effects,” he said.

Eric Domingo, head of the Food and Drug Administration, said he was surprised to hear Duterte say that some people had been given a COVID-19 vaccine. Domingo said he believed that the vaccine’s use was improper, but there was “nothing” he could do about it.

“I have no idea, and I don’t know which country it came from because, as of now, there is no vaccine that is authorized to be used in the Philippines,” Domingo said in a television interview.

So far, the government has yet to issue any “emergency-use authorization” (EAU) for any COVID-19 vaccine – a requirement for one to be administered to anyone here.

“Rest assured that the FDA is observing utmost diligence in the regulation of vaccines. Vaccines will only be approved if there is reasonable scientific evidence to show the benefit outweighs the risk,” Domingo said in a statement issued on Monday.

Pfizer is the only company that applied for emergency-use authorization in the Philippines, Domingo said, adding that his department had not received such an application from Sinopharm.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the use of Sinopharm’s vaccine was not improper as long as the drug was not purchased for commercial sale or distribution.

“It was free of charge so I assume it was donated. I just don’t know who donated them,” Roque said.

According to him, Sinopharm’s vaccine, along with another Chinese-made one, had been given to people in China months ago.

“In fact, as early as in July, Sinopharm and Sinovac have been administered to more than a million people in China,” Roque said.

On Monday, the Philippines recorded 766 new COVID-19 cases. The country has overall detected at least 470,000 cases – the second highest number in East Asia after neighbor Indonesia, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the United States.

Meanwhile, Duterte signed a 4.5-trillion (U.S. $93.7 billion) national budget for 2021 to help the country’s pandemic-battered economy and fund acquisitions of COVID-19 vaccines, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported.

Vaccine vs VFA

Also during the weekend, the president warned that he would end the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) – a bilateral pact with the United States – if American pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer did not deliver at least 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the Philippines immediately.

Among other things, the defense pact allows large-scale joint military exercises. In November, the Philippines government gave itself another six months to decide whether to pull out of the agreement.

“The Visiting Forces Agreement is about to end. If I don’t agree [to extend it], they will really leave,” Duterte said on Saturday, referring to U.S. troops.

“If they can’t deliver just the minimum of 20 million [doses of] vaccine, they better get out. No vaccine, no staying here.”

The U.S. Embassy in Manila declined to comment on Duterte’s latest comments.

Separately, Duterte on Saturday ordered the extension of a ban on flights from the United Kingdom for at least for two weeks after Jan. 1.

The ban, which took effect on Dec. 24, was imposed after a new and more aggressive strain of the coronavirus disease was detected in the British Isles.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.


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