Members of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team have received a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine, officials said Monday – the first people in the country to be officially immunized despite no regulatory approval.
The Philippines is in talks with several pharmaceutical firms, including Britain’s AstraZeneca, US company Pfizer and China’s Sinopharm, to secure 60 million doses for a vaccination drive starting as early as the second quarter of 2021.
No vaccine has been approved by the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is required before it can be rolled out across the country of 110 million people.
But the Presidential Security Group (PSG) – which is tasked with protecting Duterte – said some of its personnel have already been inoculated.
“The PSG administered Covid-19 vaccine to its personnel performing close-in security operations to the President,” unit chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante said in a statement, without specifying how many had taken the drug.
Asked if Duterte had been immunized, Durante said the president was still waiting “for the perfect or appropriate vaccine.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Sinopharm drug was given to the soldiers, confirming Duterte’s comments at the weekend that “a select few” had been inoculated with the Chinese vaccine.
Roque did not explain how the drug was obtained or the number of doses received. The Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond to requests for comment.
Duterte has previously expressed confidence in vaccines made by China and Russia, even offering himself up as a guinea pig for the very first jab of Moscow’s controversial Sputnik V.
Roque played down concerns about the safety of the Sinopharm drug, saying it was meant to send a message of hope to Filipinos.
“The news is that the vaccine is already here and if we cannot be given Western vaccines, our friend and neighbor China is willing to give us vaccines,” Roque said.
“It’s not prohibited under the law to get inoculated with an unregistered (vaccine). What is illegal is the distribution and selling.”
‘No guarantee on safety’
More than 470,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the Philippines and authorities fear a post-Christmas surge in infections.
The FDA issued a statement Monday warning against the use of unauthorized vaccines, noting there was “no guarantee on the safety, quality and efficacy” of a drug that has not undergone technical evaluation by the regulator.
So far, the Philippines has signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 2.6 million doses of its vaccine and hopes to secure another 30 million from the company using public and private funding.
Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine.
China has four vaccines, including Sinopharm, in the final stages of development and is well advanced with mass human testing in a number of countries.
But, unlike vaccines being developed by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, little information has been published about the safety or efficacy of the Chinese drugs.