Malacañang on Tuesday denied that President Rodrigo Duterte took a smuggled anti-coronavirus vaccine, insisting that the jab was authorized by the local regulators.
The first dose of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine administered to the Chief Executive was covered by a compassionate use permit from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said.
“As far as the President is concerned, he did not violate any law,” Roque said in a televised briefing.
FDA director general Eric Domingo also confirmed in a separate interview that the vaccine administered to the Philippine leader was covered by the special license his agency issued last February.
The permit, he added, was granted to the Presidential Security Group (PSG) hospital which allows Duterte’s security detail to legally acquire 10,000 doses of Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine for themselves and their partners.
“They (PSG) received a donation from China and they applied for a special permit to protect the President. It seems this is the same one that was used on the President last night,” Domingo told radio station dzBB.
Roque and Domingo cannot say when the vaccine doses arrived in the country. PSG chief Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante III has yet to provide details to the media.
Roque, however, said the jab that Duterte received was part of an additional 1,000 doses that China “recently” donated.
“The jab the President used was not smuggled because it was donated by the Chinese government,” he said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III administered the vaccine to Duterte on Monday night in Malacañang, as shown in a Facebook video posted by the President’s former top aide Senator Christopher “Bong” Go.
The Chief Executive is expected to receive the second dose of his vaccine next month, Roque added.
Duterte received his first vaccine dose following his doctors’ approval, said Roque, even if Sinopharm has yet to be approved by the FDA for emergency use.
It remains unclear why his physicians recommended the Sinopharm vaccine, instead of other brands issued with emergency use authorization (EUA) by the country’s regulatory board.
The FDA has so far granted an EUA for the Covid-19 vaccines of Sinovac, another Chinese firm, and AstraZeneca. Its vaccines were used in the state’s vaccination program.
Asked why the President took a Covid-19 vaccine only now, Roque said: “What changed was the fact that the EUA has been grossly delayed and that’s why the President, when the Chinese donated the vaccine, opted to have his vaccination.”
The 76-year-old official, who belongs to the elderly population or the A2 priority group for vaccination, took the jab two months after the government launched its immunization drive.
Sinopharm applied last March for an EUA in the Philippines for its Covid-19 vaccine, which reportedly showed a 79 percent efficacy rate based on interim Phase 3 trials.
Sinopharm’s vaccine doses were smuggled to the Philippines as early as October last year and were administered to some members of the PSG.
The FDA sought the PSG’s explanation as to how the unregistered vaccines were shipped to the Philippines, but Domingo said the group refused to reply.
The government launched its vaccination program last 1 March, using vaccines manufactured and developed by Sinovac, British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute.
Over two million Filipinos have so far received Covid-19 vaccines.