Seaports, airports on ’red alert’
MANILA—There are no unauthorized COVID-19 vaccines so far in the Philippines, the Bureau of Customs said Saturday, despite reports of alleged illegal vaccination in the country.
Customs Spokesperson Vincent Philip Maronilla said the agency has intensified screening the national borders for the entry of smuggled coronavirus vaccine jabs, with the seaports and airports on “red alert.”
“[There are] no seizures yet of any illicit or unauthorized vaccines . . . We have beefed up capability to screen imports for the fake vaccines, but they will in no way hamper the arrival of the legit vaccine,” Maronilla told ANC in an interview.
The official added that the BoC has been coordinating with vaccine manufacturers for indicators that would help identify a fake vaccine. The bureau also has an intelligence unit dedicated to this matter.
Under the Food and Drug Administration’s (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.
A senator earlier this week urged the BoC and the Philippine National Police to boost border screening that would stop the arrival of bootleg vaccines in the country, as news broke that some confiscated fake vaccines in China were supposedly prepared to be shipped abroad.
Earlier this year, Chinese-Filipino community civic leader Teresita Ang-See said some 100,000 Chinese workers have been vaccinated for COVID-19 despite any official jab rollout in the country.
Late last year, controversy emerged when the Presidential Security Group acknowledged that some of the President’s personal guards were already inoculated, drawing public criticism due to the presence of bootleg vaccines.
Malacañang acknowledged some soldiers received the experimental coronavirus candidate developed by Chinese drug maker Sinopharm.
Arrival of legitimate COVID-19 vaccines
Pharmaceutical companies, Maronilla said, have nominated their own logistics partners that would claim the vaccine upon its arrival.
“We have [a] point person and one stop shop. We also have the DND (Department of National Defense), NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) tracing the necessary permits of alleged counterfeit vaccines that have arrived in the country,” he explained.
Documents and permits will also be screened to make sure that the vaccines are original and approved by the FDA.
A vaccine with no emergency use authorization from the FDA will also be prohibited from entering the border.
The bureau also upgraded X-ray machines that could check the identifying marks of the legitimate vaccines.
Earlier, the Department of Health (DOH) said it is coordinating with the FDA regarding reports of COVID-19 vaccines being offered to Filipinos in the black market.
The DOH also warned that it would have a hard time monitoring the vaccine’s side effects in an individual inoculated with an unauthorized or smuggled brand.
Vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. has said the Philippines will get at least 5.6 million coronavirus jabs in the first quarter of the year from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca, through the World Health Organization-led COVAX Facility.
These are on top of 108 million COVID-19 shots that the government has secured so far, Galvez added.