‘Rody’s jab to boost trust in vaccines’

The Palace on Tuesday defended President Duterte’s inoculation with an unregistered COVID-19 vaccine, saying his vaccination would boost public confidence in vaccines.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte was given the vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm–the same one secretly administered to members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) last year– before it was given any regulatory approval.

“As a senior citizen, he was among the priorities for vaccination,” Roque said.

He added that the use of the Sinopharm vaccine was covered by the compassionate use permit granted by the Food and Drug Administration, which falls short of the emergency use authorization granted to other vaccines.

“It is covered by compassionate use so as far as the President is concerned he did not violate any laws because precisely it was administered by the PSG hospital although physically administered by the Health secretary himself so covered by compassionate use permit,” he said.

Roque said the shot was part of the extra 1,000 doses donated by the Chinese government.

“What we are trying to do is boost vaccine confidence in the country.

His message is clear: Everyone should get vaccinated while we still have vaccines,” Roque said.

A recent survey showed that most Filipinos do not want to get inoculated over safety concerns.

Sinopharm, developed by Beijing Biological Products Institute, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group (CNBG), is said to be 79.34 percent effective.

FDA Director General Eric Domingo supported the Palace view that the President’s shot was covered by his agency’s grant of a compassionate special permit.

“This is the permit that the PSG had applied for when they received a donation from China. They asked for a special permit to protect the President and it seems that it is the same one that was used for the President’s vaccination last night,” Domingo said in Filipino during an interview on Dobol B TV.

So far, two to three firms have expressed their intent to apply for the emergency use authorization (EUA) of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm Group, he said.

However, these firms have yet to submit requirements to the FDA, including proof that they are the official supplier and distributor of the Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine in the country, he added. The agency has not evaluated the Sinopharm vaccine, he said.

Duterte received the Sinopharm jab against COVID-19 on Monday, with the shot being administered by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

In December last year, Duterte revealed that members of the PSG were vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine that was smuggled into the country.

It was only in March 2021 that the government officially rolled out its vaccination program against COVID-19.

PSG Chief Jesus Durante III later confirmed Duterte’s statement, saying PSG members inoculated themselves with Sinopharm.

In February, the FDA granted a compassionate use permit for 10,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine for the use of PSG members.

A compassionate use permit, however, only allows for legal administration of COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines and is not  tantamount to the FDA endorsing the product’s safety and efficacy.

Earlier, the country’s vaccine expert panel (VEP) on Monday said it is monitoring closely exchanges of Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute and Brazilian authorities regarding the controversies in the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V.

Dr. Nina Gloriani, chairperson of the Department of Science and Technology’s VEP, said Brazil, which rejected the vaccine, might have misunderstood data of Sputnik V.

Nonetheless, she said they are “closely monitoring the explanation of both countries.”

The FDA earlier assured the public that they have thoroughly reviewed the data presented by the Russian company before approving the EUA for its vaccines in March.

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa’s technical staff advised their government to stop imports from the Russian vaccines because of “inherent risks” in its efficacy and safety.

In other developments:

* The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) sought inclusion of economic frontline workers to be included in the to A4 priority group for COVID-19 vaccination. In a letter to Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) head Carlito Galvez Jr., PEZA director general Charito Plaza said PEZA-registered companies, ecozone and industry workers are considered frontline workers “as they have continued working to ensure the unhampered service to contribute to the global supply chain.”

* The Palace said it appreciates Hong Kong’s decision to suspend its policy on compulsory COVID-19 vaccination of foreign domestic workers before their contracts can be renewed. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has decided to put on hold the plan to require vaccination of domestic helpers following accusations of discrimination. Lam, however, said the government is still pushing through with its mandatory COVID-19 testing for all domestic helpers by May 9.

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