MANILA — Malacañang on Tuesday denied that President Rodrigo Duterte took a smuggled, illegal COVID-19 vaccine, which has not yet been cleared for emergency use in the Philippines.
The vaccine from Chinese state firm Sinopharm that Duterte took on Monday is “covered by compassionate use,” said his spokesman Harry Roque.
The Philippine drug regulator in February gave Duterte's security team a compassionate use license for 10,000 Sinopharm shots. As commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Duterte is entitled to use these doses, Roque earlier said.
“As far as the President is concerned, he did not violate any laws,” he said in a press briefing.
The jab that Duterte received was part of an additional 1,000 doses that China recently donated, said Roque. He said he did not know when this batch arrived.
“Hindi po smuggled ang ginamit ng Presidente dahil ito po ay donated ng Chinese government,” he added.
(The jab the President used was not smuggled because it was donated by the Chinese government.)
The President attended a meeting after getting vaccinated and did not experience reaction from the jab, Roque said.
Duterte last year said some members of the Presidential Security Group took Sinopharm shots, months before they got the compassionate use permit from the Food and Drug Administration.
Sinopharm has two COVID-19 vaccine products, the first developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, an offshoot of the state-owned giant, and the second, by its subsidiary the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products.
Sinopharm said in December that the Beijing institute vaccine was 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 diseases but it did not elaborate on the results or publish trial data. The product has been approved for general use in the United Arab Emirates and for emergency use in Argentina, Nepal, Egypt, Pakistan and Peru.
The second product, as of February this year, has been in phase 3 clinical trials in various countries since June. Participants in the first two phases of the product's trial were given two doses, 28 days apart.
Both vaccines were authorized for emergency use in China in July.
China’s Sinopharm seeks general use green light for second vaccine
But as of Monday, the World Health Organization has yet to give emergency use approval for the vaccine candidates of Sinopharm, as well as that of Sinovac, another Chinese firm.
In the Philippines, COVID-19 vaccine products from the following have been cleared for emergency use by the country's drug regulator: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Gamaleya Institute, Sinovac Biotech, Johnson & Johnson, and Bharat Biotech.
The Philippines has received 4.040 million COVID-19 shots, majority of which are from Sinovac. Authorities have administered about 1.9 million of these doses, as of May 2.
Earlier surveys revealed that many Filipinos were hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Vice President Leni Robredo and several others as far back as last year urged Duterte to get vaccinated in a bid to boost public confidence in the jabs.
Asked why it took months before Duterte took the Sinopharm shot, Roque said, "Wala po kasing supply na dumating."
(No supply arrived.)
The country's total recorded COVID-19 cases reached 1,062,225 on Monday, of which, 69,466 are active. The first case was confirmed on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan, where the disease is believed to have first emerged in late 2019.
- with reports from South China Morning Post and Reuters