Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Monday confirmed that some members of the Cabinet and the Presidential Security Group (PSG) had been injected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccine.
Interviewed on radio, Año did not name the Cabinet officials who were inoculated, saying it would violate their privacy.
He defended the inoculations without the government having approved a vaccine, saying it was done through an emergency use authorization (EUA).
Last Saturday, President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that soldiers had been injected with the vaccine developed by the Chinese drug company Sinopharm.
In a press briefing on Monday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said he did not know if the inoculation of soldiers was government-sanctioned and if it was the President who ordered it.
He also refused to confirm whether PSG members had received Covid shots
Roque, however, said there was nothing illegal in inoculating soldiers.
What is illegal is the distribution and sale of unapproved vaccines, he added.
Roque said more than a million people in China had been inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine since July, an indication that it was safe to use.
He noted that the government did not pay for the inoculations, saying, “It must’ve been donated. I don’t know who donated it.”
He said as far as he knows, Duterte had not received a vaccine shot yet.
The President has repeatedly said he wanted soldiers and police officers as among the first to be immunized against the coronavirus.
The confirmation that PSG members had received Covid-19 shots came from the Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana.
In a radio interview, Sobejana at first said he could not disclose which military unit had been inoculated, but admitted that the orders for the vaccination came “from the chain of command of the Armed Forces.” The President, as commander-in-chief, is on top of the chain of command.
Earlier Monday, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman, denied the vaccination of soldiers, only to admit later in the day that the PSG troops had received Covid-19 shots.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the country’s health regulatory agency, has not approved any Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use.
Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd sees nothing wrong with inoculating soldiers against Covid-19.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong about that. There is no law that says you cannot take any medicine or vaccine that FDA has not approved,” Sotto said in a text message.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said “public confidence is critical to the successful inoculation of our people.”
“Confidence is developed by adhering to a science-based process and the opinion of our vaccine expert panel,” Drilon said in a statement.
In a statement on Monday, the Department of Health said all Covid-19 vaccines would be strictly evaluated by the Vaccine Experts Panel and the Single Joint Ethics Review Board.
FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique Domingo said the FDA had not issued an EUA for any vaccine.
Only one company, Pfizer, has applied for such an authorization.
“Without the proper authorization, there is no guarantee on the safety, quality, and efficacy of the said vaccine as the same has not undergone the required technical evaluation of the FDA,” Domingo said.
In a related development, Roque denied that the President was blackmailing the United States government into supplying the Philippines with 20 million vaccine doses by threatening to scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“Wala pong masama diyan, hindi po yan blackmail ‘yan (There is nothing wrong with that. That’s not blackmail),” Roque said.
Duterte last Saturday threatened to abolish the VFA if Washington fails to provide vaccines to the Philippines.
The VFA which allows American soldiers to hold military exercises in the Philippines, was supposed to have been rescinded in August, but the government put its termination on hold in June for six months.
In November, the government extended the suspension for another six months.
WITH BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO, KEITH CALAYAG, DEMPSEY REYES AND RED MENDOZA