Despite the presence of the new COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom, the Department of Health (DOH) said there is still no evidence that it will affect the efficacy of the present vaccines.
“There is no evidence showing that the new [COVID19] variant will make the vaccines ineffective,” DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press briefing on Thursday.
Duque explained that the strain of the SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which causes COVID-19 – has not changed, adding that mutations of the strain have already been observed before and is “not something new.”
“We’ve had mutations, I think in June or July, and now the new variant in the United Kingdom,” he said.
While Duque recognized that concerns on COVID-19 vaccines’ efficacy are valid, he pointed out that there is no evidence, so far, showing that these have been rendered ineffective.
With this, the DOH chief emphasized that the government’s immunization road map will still push through as planned.
“I am quite positive, I am optimistic that the COVID-19 immunization road map or the plan will be implemented immediately that is why we have started the preparations,” he added.
Citing National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., Duque noted that the vaccines will be made available around March, 2021 at the earliest.
The government has formally secured more than two million doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca which is expected to arrive in the second quarter of 2021, while negotiations with other vaccine manufacturers are still ongoing.
Warning vs unregulated vaccines
Amid controversies surrounding the nation’s procurement of COVID19 vaccine, Duque warned that the use of unregulated drugs and vaccines is illegal and sanctions await medical professionals administering these.
In a statement on Thursday, Duque said any medications that will be used against the dreaded respiratory disease should be approved first by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), lest these will be deemed illegal.
“Our frontliners have been struggling with the rising cases from the beginning. This will only make the situation worse. The risks cannot be denied and may even prove fatal to some,” Duque said.
The DOH chief added that they will probe the unauthorized administration of smuggled vaccines, as well as doctors and other medical professionals who administer them.
“We will have their medical licenses revoked. We, doctors, have an oath. Do no harm. In a pandemic, we need to be more circumspect,” he emphasized.
Duque made the warning following rumors regarding legislators who are allegedly getting their COVID-19 vaccines illegally.
“I’m not buying the explanation that the doctors administering the shots are being pressured by lawmakers. Someone is peddling the service and it is unacceptable,” he added.
Meanwhile, FDA Director GeneralEnrique Domingo said they already received Pfizer’s application for emergency use authorization before Christmas and it is currently under evaluation.
“We understand the urgency of the situation and we are carefully reviewing the documents they submitted and taking into account the possible risks to the public. We will make a decision at the soonest possible time,” he said.
Domingo noted that the FDA and the DOH are working closely with the Bureau of Customs to prevent the entry of unauthorized COVID19 vaccines and other drugs in the country.
“We have sent our enforcement unit to the fi eld and we are awaiting the report. We are fully committed to monitoring this,” Domingo said.
Free vaccination in Bahrain
Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to Bahrain Alfonso Ver has received the coronavirus vaccine as part of the free immunization drive in the small Middle East state.
In an online press conference in Bahrain, Ver admitted getting inoculated against coronavirus after simply registering online to avail of the vaccine offered by government there.
He is reportedly the first Filipino envoy to get the vaccine shot abroad.
“I’ve been tested here six times. You just call a number and you get tested. Even vaccination, navaccinate na rin po ako (I have been vaccinated),” the Filipino diplomat said during the briefing organized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office-Office of Global Media Affairs.
“I just registered in an online app. There’s even a choice kung ano gusto mong vaccine. In two minutes, tapos (There’s even a choice which vaccine you like. In two minutes, it’s complete),” he said.
Early this month, Bahrain announced plans to provide free COVID-19 vaccines for free to all citizens and residents to protect public health and safety.
Bahrain recently became the second country in the world to grant emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
The United Kingdom had earlier approved the vaccine for general use.
Bahrain had earlier allowed the emergency use for the vaccine made by Sinopharm.
Ver noted that the Bahrain government has offered health benefits such as free testing and vaccination in line with its effort to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are indeed very fortunate here. The government (is) providing these benefits and the Filipinos, they can take advantage of several avenues, official or own their own helping themselves,” he said.
Ver also expressed gratitude to Bahrain for its labor reforms, such as flexible work permit program, to promote the welfare of migrant workers, including Filipinos.
Around 50,000 Filipinos are living and working in Bahrain. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)