The Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail a compassionate permit for the use of 10,000 doses of Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine, Malacañang announced on Thursday, February 11.
"All I know is PSG (Presidential Security Group) applied and was granted compassionate use for 10,000 doses," said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque in a press briefing.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the PSG applied for a compassionate special permit last January 18 and "recently completed all requirements."
"It was granted yesterday and the PSG Hospital takes full responsibility for the vaccines and will report utilization and outcomes to FDA," he said in a message.
The permit is only for "future use" and covers a one-time importation, said Domingo.
The PSG had admitted to vaccinating some of its members – supposedly on its own – in September and October 2020, before securing any government approvals.
Roque himself could not disclose about the arrangement apparently made by the PSG to obtain 10,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Sinopharm, a pharmaceutical firm owned by the Chinese government.
The Duterte spokesman said he does not know how the PSG struck a deal for the sought-after doses.
"I do not know when it will actually start its next round of vaccinations involving Sinopharm," he said when asked.
To defend why the PSG needed a compassionate permit for vaccination ahead of the government's official vaccination campaign, Roque said, "The members of the PSG need to be vaccinated because their job is to provide security for the President."
Domingo said the FDA probe into the PSG's previous unauthoried vaccination is ongoing.
Roque was also unable to say for certain if all 10,000 doses will go to PSG members or to those close to them, like family members.
Since the Sinopharm vaccine comes in two doses, the number obtained by the PSG is good for 5,000 individuals. The PSG numbers around 4,000 people, including its civilian personnel.
Asked if some of the 10,000 doses might go to family members of the PSG personnel, Roque said, "I suppose so dahil hindi naman 10,000 ang PSG (I suppose so because the PSG don't number 10,000)."
Last January, in front of soldiers in Sulu, President Rodrigo Duterte promised that families of soldiers would be put on the vaccine priority list in order to show his gratitude for their services to the country.
But his own task force and health experts advising the task force have not put soldiers' families in the vaccine priority list, which puts medical frontliners, senior citizens, persons with comorbidities, and indigent Filipinos first. Soldiers and other uniformed personnel are the 5th priority, followed by indigent Filipinos who have no comorbidities and who are not senior citizens.
The 10,000 Sinopharm doses secured by the PSG are outside the Duterte government's official vaccination roll-out expected to begin this February in COVID-19 referral hospitals.
The unauthorized PSG vaccinations were a touchy topic for Duterte who ranted against scrutiny over the issue and barred his guards from participating in congressional hearings about it.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.