Government agents smuggled doses of an unapproved Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidate into the Philippines and gave them to President Rodrigo Duterte’s military security detail as early as September, the Philippine defense minister said Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said members of the Philippines’ Presidential Security Group (PSG) obtained early samples of the vaccine candidate in development by the Chinese company Sinopharm at least three months ago without government authorization. He said the president’s security guards received the inoculations in September and October without his knowledge.
When asked by reporters Wednesday if the vaccines were “smuggled” into the Philippines, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana replied: “Yes smuggled, because they were not authorized, only the government can authorize.”
“They need to explain because they violated FDA [Food and Drug Administration] rules,” Lorenzana said of the PSG. “It is justified … it will protect them so they will not be infected and at the same time they can protect the president.”
The Philippines’ FDA has yet to approve any coronavirus vaccines for the country’s citizens and has not yet set a timeline for when Filipinos will receive the injection.
The president first revealed that his security detail had received coronavirus inoculations before anyone else in the country on December 28.
“I’ll say it, many here were already injected with Sinopharm. … I have to be frank, I have to tell the truth. Many were vaccinated and up to now, I haven’t heard anything for the select few, not all soldiers, because it’s not policy yet,” Duterte said in a televised address.
PSG head Brigadier General Jesus Durante told Philippine news channel ANC on December 29 that a handful of the unit’s members had “given themselves” a coronavirus vaccine “in good faith” as early as September. He added that Duterte was only informed of their inoculation afterward, stressing the PSG “could not afford to wait” for the president’s approval. Durante did not reveal how the unit obtained the coronavirus vaccine, or which candidate they received.
“With the current pandemic, PSG needs to ensure that they are not themselves [a] threat to the President’s health and safety. As such the PSG administered Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine to its personnel performing close-in security operations to the President,” Durante said in a statement. “PSG’s decision to take the risk is a courageous step that greatly supports its mandate. We did it not for personal agenda but on a greater pursuit that is even way beyond our mission of protecting our President.”
“We are in a state of war, a war against Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus]. War compels us to survive as what we are now doing in this pandemic. As such, PSG exploits all means in order to deliver its mandate as what is highly expected of them by the Filipino people,” Durante added.