'Financial interest'? FDA chief says Rep. Arroyo letter on Sinopharm vaccine 'not unusual'

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2021 02:32 PM | Updated as of Jan 22 2021 03:12 PM

ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The head of the Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday that a letter from Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo offering information on a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine was “not unusual”, even as a senator questioned the lawmaker's potential financial interest in the drug. 

FDA Director General Eric Domingo, who is charge of authorizing vaccines for local use, told senators that Arroyo “wanted to share some information on a vaccine that might be useful to the FDA, and I suggested to e-mail.”

Arroyo sent an email with 2 attachments on the Sinopharm vaccine to the vaccine expert panel in November 2020. The panel asked the lawmaker what his intention was for sending the email, but “there was no further communication after that,” Domingo said in a Senate inquiry into the country's COVID-19 inoculation drive.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked if Arroyo wanted to be a local distributor of Sinopharm, to which Domingo replied, “Wala naman pong indication.” 

(There is no indication.)

Sinopharm has not yet applied for emergency use authorization in the Philippines, he added.

Firms that eye distributing the vaccine should have “license to operate as a pharmaceutical importer and distributor,” said Domingo. He said he did not know whether the company owned by Arroyo's family has applied for this permit.

LTA Inc—headed by the lawmaker's father, former first gentleman Mike Arroyo—is fighting a graft case over the sale of 2 secondhand helicopters passed off as brand new to the Philippine National Police in 2009, said Hontiveros.

“Kahit itong paunang pagpaparamdam ng LTA Inc kaugnay ng Sinopharm ay nakababahala nang kaunti because of LTA’s checkered track record,” she added. 

(Even if this feeler of LTA Inc in relation to Sinopharm is a bit alarming because of LTA’s checkered track record.)

“Doesn’t it appear unseemly that a company associated with a sitting legislator, katulad lang po namin (just like us), may have or may come to have financial interest in a particular vaccine brand? Dahil bagamat 2 buwan, hindi nagparamdam ulit, unang nag-email po,” the senator asked Domingo. 

He replied, “I did not find it very unusual when he offered information on a vaccine. Madalas naman po na nakakatanggap ako ng mga (I often receive) inquiry sa mga (from) congressman, mayor, governor about certain products, certain facilities.”

“I did not find it unusual actually,” he added.

“Medyo iba iyong impression natin, Director Domingo, sa mga ganyang klaseng sitwasyon,” Hontiveros told the FDA chief. 

(Our impression is slightly different on situations like that.)

ABS-CBN News sought comment from Arroyo but he has yet to respond as of this posting. 

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