After soldiers get COVID-19 vaccine, Palace says: ‘Tanggapin na lang natin’

Malacañang on Monday, December 28, defended the use of an unregistered COVID-19 vaccine on soldiers and urged the public to just “accept” that uniformed personnel were among those already inoculated against the disease. 

Huwag 'yo naman pong ipagkait sa ating mga sundalo kung nagkaroon sila ng proteksyon. Tanggapin na lang po natin na importante na iyong ating kasundaluhan, iyong mga nagbabantay sa ating seguridad, ay ligtas na sa COVID nang magampanan nila ang kanilang trabaho,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a virtual briefing. 

(Don't deny our soldiers protection. Let’s just accept that it’s important our soldiers, who secure us, are safe from COVID so they can do their jobs.)

Roque issued the remarks in relation to news that soldiers were among those who already received a COVID-19 shot despite the absence of an approved vaccine in the country. 

It was President Rodrigo Duterte himself who revealed that some members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines received a vaccine. 

Sabihin ko, marami na magpainjection dito sa Sinopharm…. I have to be frank, I have to tell the truth. Marami nang nagpatusok and lahat up to now wala akong narinig for the select few, not all soldiers, hindi pa kasi policy eh,” Duterte said in a televised address. 

(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 its not policy yet.)

Who has been vaccinated?

On Monday afternoon, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año confirmed that some Cabinet officials as well as members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were among those already vaccinated. 

Año declined to name Cabinet officials who received the vaccine, citing their right to privacy. 

The AFP, meanwhile, confirmed soldiers who were inoculated belonged to the PSG, after initially declining to name which unit they were from. In an official statement, PSG Commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante defended the vaccination of its members, citing it as necessary to assure the security of the President.

“With the current pandemic, PSG needs to ensure that they are not themselves threat to the President's health and safety. As such the PSG administered COVID19 vaccine to its personnel performing close-in security operations to the President,” Durante said.

He continued: “We are in a state of war, a war against COVID 19. 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.”

Despite this, Durante admitted that he could not vouch for effectiveness of the vaccine. The PSG chief described the decision to take the risk and inoculate its members as 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,” he said. 

Why this matters

News of government officials being vaccinated against COVID-19 took place despite the absence of an approved or registered vaccine against the disease in the country. 

Health officials have repeatedly cited that an FDA approval was required by law to ensure that vaccines to be used in the country were assured to be both safe and effective. 

On Monday, Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo said he was “surprised” by the President’s statement that some people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Domingo asserted that there have been no vaccines against the disease that have been registered for use in the country. This included the vaccine being developed by Sinopharm, which Duterte mentioned in this speech. 

Roque, however, glossed over the use of unregistered vaccines by government workers, claiming it was not illegal for people to receive these, only to distribute and sell them. He also mentioned that soldiers who were given the vaccine “allowed” themselves to be inoculated. 

While Roque was correct that it was illegal for unapproved vaccines to be distributed, his statement ignored the consequences of using an unregistered vaccine in the country. 

Health experts warned that unregistered vaccines that do not have FDA approval cannot be assured of their safety and efficacy.

In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, which has only been granted emergency use authorizations by regulatory bodies across the world, Domingo said FDA officials and medical experts take extra precaution to weigh its risks and benefits. 

“These are all products under development. We have to realize that. We’re not even giving whole marketing authorization. We’re giving emergency use authorization which means that…. we allow them knowing they will be useful, that they will help us, that the benefit outweighs the risk,” Domingo said.

“If our people are getting products outside that system, I would be very wary. I would be very afraid for them,” he added. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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