Lorenzana: Vaccines used by Duterte’s security ‘smuggled’

REMEMBERING RIZAL. Soldiers prepare the Philippine flag for the flag-raising ceremony during the commemoration of the 124th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal at the Rizal Park in Manila on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. In his message for the occasion, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed hope that Filipinos would express love and respect for the nation and follow the examples set by Rizal and other modern-day heroes. | PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan

PHILIPPINE Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday, December 30, 2020, confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines administered to some members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were smuggled, since they have not been authorized by the government.

“Yes, it’s smuggled. Kasi hindi authorized eh na pumasok dito (the importation was not authorized). Only the government can authorize that through the FDA (Food and Drug Administration),” he told reporters during the Rizal Day celebrations in Manila.

“Kailangan ipaliwanag ng PSG because they violated FDA rules. Explain ng PSG bakit ginawa ‘yun (The PSG should explain why they did it),” Lorenzana added.

Over the weekend, President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that “almost all soldiers” have been inoculated with China-made Sinopharm despite the vaccine not having emergency use authorization (EUA) in the country.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday confirmed that several PSG members were the first among military personnel to be immunized.

However, Lorenzana said that the military vaccination campaign was “justified.”
“Explain lang talaga ng PSG kung bakit nila ginawa ‘yun. Justified naman eh. Anyway ‘yung vaccine naman ay hindi fake, totoo naman (The PSG really just has to explain why they did it. It’s still justified. Anyway, the vaccine is not fake, it’s genuine),” he said.

“Sa tingin ko naman ay hindi [breach of security]. Maganda naman ang layunin nila (I don’t think it was a breach of security. They did it with good intentions),” he added.

Lorenzana admitted that he doesn’t know who authorized the vaccine rollout.
“Basta alam namin noon, ang rumors na kumakalat ay nagpabakuna na ‘yong PSG. Who authorized it, hindi naman kami nagtanong. Ngayon pa lang lumalabas ‘yong facts na ‘yan ay hindi pa pala authorized na vaccine sa Pilipinas (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.

The defense chief also assured that the remaining units of the AFP would wait for the official rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the country before they can be inoculated.

“Kailangan sundin natin yung procedure. Tinatag natin yung FDA para meron tayong procedure dyan (We have to follow the procedures. The FDA was formed so that we have a procedure to follow) because vaccines, medicines, and food are very critical items na hindi na lang basta-basta papasok (which cannot just easily enter the country),” Lorenzana said.

Full responsibility
PSG chief Jesus Durante, for his part, said that he takes full responsibility for the unauthorized, independent vaccination campaign.

“I take full responsibility for our actions here… I take full responsibility being the commander of the PSG,” he said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart.

According to Durante, the vaccinations started in September, adding that those inoculated already received two doses of the vaccine.

“Since October. Started actually September and the last batch was October,” he said.

“Everybody is aware actually that most countries have acquired vaccines. Some of them are developing. That was one of our bases. So we came up with that based on the experience of other nations. We did some research about it,” he added.

He also said Duterte was only informed about the vaccinations after the PSG members have been inoculated.

“We didn’t ask permission. We just informed him about it after all the close-in personnel were vaccinated. He was surprised,” said Durante.

The PSG chief admitted that they vaccinated themselves without the help of a medical professional.

“We vaccinated ourselves. It is within our command,” Durante said.

Unauthorized vaccines

The FDA on Tuesday, December 29 reminded the public that it has not granted EUA to any COVID-19 vaccine candidate following the reports of PSG members receiving vaccine shots.

“As of date, the FDA has not issued any Emergency Use Authorization to any vaccine for COVID-19. Without the proper authorization, there is no guarantee on the safety, quality and efficacy of said vaccine as the same has not undergone the required technical evaluation by the FDA,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo stressed.

The agency also pointed out that “manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertisement, or sponsorship of any unauthorized vaccine” remain prohibited.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Department of Health underscored the risks of unauthorized vaccines.

“All vaccines should undergo the evaluation and regulatory process of our regulatory and expert bodies. We also reiterate that the use of unregistered products poses harm to a person’s health and safety. This is why only vaccines which have been approved and found to be safe should be administered,” the agency said.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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