MANILA — The Bureau of Customs and the Philippine National Police must intensify their border screening efforts to prevent the entry of smuggled or fake COVID-19 vaccines in the country, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Wednesday.
The lawmaker issued the call after news broke out regarding the confiscation of some 3,000 fake COVID-19 vaccine doses in China which were supposedly intended to be shipped abroad.
The suspects were also accused of selling the fake vaccines at marked up prices.
“'Pag hindi dumadaan ang bakuna sa FDA (Food and Drug Administration), walang ibang makakasigurado na ligtas ito. We need to keep watch of our borders like bloodhounds," Hontiveros said in a statement.
(If a vaccine was not screened by the FDA, no one can guarantee its safety.)
"Ni isang pekeng bakuna ay hindi dapat makalusot,” she stressed.
(A fake COVID-19 vaccine should not slip any of our authorities.)
“This is a grave concern of public safety and health. Siguraduhin sanang walang inside jobs o under-the-table deals sa mga ahensiyang nagbabantay sa ating borders.”
(We should ensure that no inside jobs or under-the table deals will happen in agencies manning our borders.)
Under the FDA law, the importation, sale and administering of unregistered vaccines should result in a penalty of a fine or imprisonment, but health officials earlier said they do not have information yet to hold anyone accountable.
Hontiveros said authorities must “bust any plan” that attempts to bring fake or smuggled vaccines in the country, as she asked the country’s pandemic task force to also ramp up its quality control and security measures.
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“Siguraduhin ng NTF na ang publiko mismo, alam kung paano magkilatis ng kalidad ng ating mga bakuna. Ilatag na ang safety and quality control protocol at magdagdag ng security protocol para siguraduhing ang bawat isang dose sa milyon-milyon nating bibilhin ay walang halo at hindi peke,” she said.
(The national task force against COVID-19 should ensure that even the public is knowledgeable about the vaccine's quality. They should lay out safety and quality control protocols and add a security protocol that will make sure that each dose that we had procured is pure and original.)
The Department of Health had said it is coordinating with the FDA regarding reports of COVID-19 vaccines being offered to Filipinos in the black market.
The agency warned that they would have a hard time monitoring the vaccine’s side effects in an individual inoculated with an unauthorized or smuggled brand.
A report earlier this month revealed that some 100,000 Chinese workers in Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) have already been vaccinated even though the FDA has yet to certify the sale and distribution of any COVID-19 drug in the country.
The Presidential Security Group late last year also acknowledged receiving unapproved vaccines, which the group allegedly self-administered.
The government expects the delivery this month of the country's initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines. Up to 70 million Filipinos are targeted for inoculation to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday, the Philippines has logged 528,853 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 30,368 active infections, 10,874 total fatalities and 487,611 total recoveries.