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Soldiers Receive First COVID-19 Vaccines in the Country. It's Not FDA-Approved, So Is It Illegal?

What government officials have to say.
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There’s been an onslaught of conflicting statements from the government regarding vaccinations of soldiers. On Monday (December 28), several government officials revealed that COVID-19 vaccinations have already started in the Philippines. However, the Food and Drug Administration, which approves and rejects all pharmaceuticals entering the country, has stated that it has not yet approved the emergency use of any COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

The vaccine in question that has been used on members of the Presidential Security Group and soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines is Sinopharm, a Chinese-made vaccine with 86 percent efficacy. This is different from Sinovac, which has at least 50 percent efficacy. The government plans to purchase 25 million doses of Sinovac.

Here’s a breakdown of what everyone is saying, and whether the unsanctioned vaccination of soldiers is illegal:

President Rodrigo Duterte

During Saturday’s IATF briefing: “Sabihin ko sa iyo, marami na ang nagpa-injection dito sa Sinopharm. Halos lahat ng sundalo natusukan na.”

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque

When asked if Duterte authorized the vaccination: “I don’t think so. It must have been the decision of the commanders and the soldiers... It was not mandatory; kung sino lang ‘yung gusto. Kahit ikaw po ay isang sundalo, kung ayaw mo talagang magpakuna, kahit anong brand ng bakuna ‘yan, hindi ka po mapipilit.”

Philippine Army Chief Lt. Gen Cirilito Sobejana

When asked by DWIZ who gave the order to vaccinate soldiers: “Our President is our commander-in-chief sa AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines). I should say it's from the chain of command of the Armed Forces.”

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III

When asked for a comment: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong about that. There is no law that says you cannot take any medicine or vaccine that FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved.”

Food and Drug Administration Director-General Eric Domingo

In response to news of soldier vaccinations: “There is no registered vaccine that has been authorized to be used in the Philippines... Ang bawal sa Pilipinas ay ang magbenta, mag-import, mag-distribute at mag-dispense ng unregistered drug. Once there are illicit activities like this, once we have a problem, ang magkakakaso dito iyong importer, iyong distributor, iyong doktor o healthcare worker na nagbakuna because they are using unregistered drugs.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III

In response to news of soldier vaccinations: Kailangan natin maging transparent sa ating mga efforts to secure our vaccines at kailangan natin magbigay ng regular na updates para maiparating sa ating mga publiko na atin talagang sinisigurado na ang bakuna na pipiliin ay ligtas at epektibo.

The Law

Republic Act No. 9711 (Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009)

SEC 11. The following acts and the causing thereof are hereby prohibited:

  • . the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertising, or sponsorship of any health product that is adulterated, unregistered, or misbranded.

Earlier this month, the government announced that the following priority system would be followed for the distribution of the country’s first batch of vaccines:

  • Priority 1: Frontline Health Workers (doctors, nurses, barangay health workers, contact tracers, DSWD, DepEd, DILG, and more)
  • Priority 2: Indigent senior citizens
  • Priority 3: Remaining senior citizens
  • Priority 4: Remaining indigent population
  • Priority 5: Uniformed personnel (PNP, AFP, PCG, etc.)

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