Philippines to probe use of illegal COVID-19 vaccines

Philippines to probe use of illegal COVID-19 vaccines

Coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines
A security guard wearing a hazmat suit for protection against COVID-19 stands beside a train in Manila, Philippines, Jan 29, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA: The Philippines health ministry said on Wednesday (Feb 24) it will investigate the illegal use of unauthorised COVID-19 vaccines, after a presidential adviser admitted to receiving shots of a Sinopharm vaccine smuggled into the country.

Ramon Tulfo, a celebrity radio and television host and special envoy to China, revealed in his newspaper column on Feb 20 and again in an interview with One News that he received a dose in October from a batch that was also used by President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail.

"I got hold of vaccines from a friend who smuggled it into the country," Tulfo told One News.

READ: Philippine president lauds guards' courage in using unauthorised COVID-19 vaccine: Spokesman

News last month of Duterte's bodyguard unit taking the vaccine, which it said was without the president's knowledge, prompted criticism from lawmakers about privileged access and flouting of laws.

Several government officials also received Sinopharm shots, Tulfo said, adding to speculation that vaccines were available on the black market.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved use of the Sinopharm vaccine, making its importation and distribution illegal. Sinopharm has not sought emergency use authorisation in the Philippines.

READ: Philippines approves Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine but not for health workers

"We are investigating because it's not good to learn of these inoculations that did not go through proper procedures," FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said.

Philippine Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said recipients of unauthorised vaccines were also accountable.

Calls to Sinopharm in China were unanswered, and a spokeswoman for its unit developing COVID-19 vaccines has yet to respond to written queries.

READ: Philippines offers nurses in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines from Britain, Germany

Tulfo, 74, said he had wanted to test the vaccine's efficacy as he was applying to be a distributor.

"I don't feel guilty about it," he said.

The Philippines has yet to start immunisations or receive any COVID-19 vaccines that it has approved for emergency use, despite having one of highest number of cases and deaths in Asia.

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Source: Reuters/dv