Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. defended on Tuesday, May 4, the use of inoculation of President Duterte using a Sinopharm vaccine which has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use.
Duterte was vaccinated with his first dose of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Chinese manufacturer Sinopharm, according to a video posted on Facebook Monday night by his long-time aide and now Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go.
This raised concern among the public as using an unapproved vaccine is prohibited under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s rules.
“According to our Vaccine Expert Panel when they made a presentation to us, Sinovac and Sinopharm are just equal in terms of safety because it has an inactivated virus. This is what leaders in China used so it is expensive. This is what leaders in the area of Middle East also used,” Galvez said in Filipino as he tried to justify the use of Sinopharm to vaccinate the President.
“With that, his doctor recommended that Sinopharm is what’s [most suitable] for him,” he claimed.
Galvez did not specify who among the Chinese and Middle Eastern leaders he was referring to.
But Chinese authorities have yet to confirm whether Pres. Xi Jinping already received a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to an article by the New York Times published on April 26, 2021, the Sinopharm vaccine teaches the immune system to produce antibodies to fight the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by producing large stocks of coronaviruses and killing them later on with a chemical called beta-propiolactone.
However, there is little to no study done in the country about the efficacy of Sinopharm since the FDA has yet to issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Chinese manufacturer.
“It’s almost the same [with Sinovac]. It prevents severe hospitalization and death,” Galvez claimed, comparing Sinopharm with Sinovac which has an efficacy rate of 65 percent to 91 percent.
For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque insisted that there was nothing wrong with the inoculation of Duterte using Sinopharm since it was covered by the compassionate special permit (CSP) issued by the FDA to the Presidential Security Group (PSG) in February.
Galvez said the vaccine administered to Duterte was part of the 10,000 doses of Sinopharm that were “donated” by the Chinese government to PSG.
“Kasama ‘yan, same flight sa 500,000 donation ng Sinovac (It was included in the same flight when we received the 500,000 donation of Sinovac),” Galvez claimed.
The first batch of Sinovac donations by China arrived on February 28, 2021. But the NTF Against COVID-19 did not indicate that there were 10,000 doses of Sinopharm jabs that were included in the donations.
It can be recalled that some members of the PSG were secretly vaccinated with Sinopharm in September to October 2020.
The PSG’s secret vaccination only surfaced when Duterte made a slip during a public address that some members of the PSG were already inoculated despite the lack of availability of any vaccine in the country at the time.
The secret vaccination created a buzz after the military was accused of using a smuggled vaccine.
The leadership of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had insisted that the vaccination of PSG with an unregistered vaccine was “heroic” because they risked their lives to accomplish their duty of protecting the President by being immune to COVID-19.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on the other hand, described the vaccines used by the PSG as “smuggled” since the FDA has not yet given a CSP to the PSG at the time.
Meanwhile, Galvez said they will only negotiate with Sinopharm once it secures an EUA from the FDA. He said Sinopharm costs $40 to $76 per dose.
“It’s a little bit pricy. But just in case it becomes available, the price will no longer matter because we have seen the strategy done by Israel. They bought twice the price so they can have an access and steady supply of vaccines,” he stressed.