MANILA — Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday that he has tapped the National Bureau of Investigation to look into reports of unauthorized vaccinations against the novel coronavirus.
President Rodrigo Duterte's military security detail had used unapproved COVID-19 vaccines that were smuggled into the country, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. One Cabinet official was also inoculated against COVID-19 even as the country has yet to approve a vaccine for this, said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
Guevarra said he instructed the NBI last Monday to "immediately investigate the reported unauthorized distribution and administration of unregistered anti-COVID-19 19 vaccines" for possible violation of several laws, he said.
These include the Food and Drug Administration, Consumers, and Medical Practice Acts, he said.
He said the probe "is a general instruction, not zeroing in on the PSG or on any particular incident of unauthorized vaccination," he said.
News of the special troop unit being inoculated as early as September has caused a stir among activists, with the FDA yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccines and no set timeline for when vulnerable health workers would receive one.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) obtained the vaccine without government authorization and had administered them without his knowledge.
"Yes smuggled, because they were not authorized, only the government can authorize," he told reporters when asked if the vaccine was smuggled into the country.
"They need to explain because they violated FDA rules."
He however said the move was "justified," as "it will protect them so they will not be infected and at the same time they can protect the president."
PSG head Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante told news channel ANC that a handful of unit members had given themselves a coronavirus vaccine "in good faith" and the President was only informed afterwards.
Durante said the unit could not afford to wait for approval. He did not say how the vaccine was obtained, or which one was used.
The FDA and health ministry earlier warned against the use of unapproved vaccines, and said importing, distributing or selling them was illegal.
Akbayan Partylist, a leftwing group of lawmakers, cried foul over what it called "VIP treatment" when local governments were struggling to get budgets to fight the coronavirus.
Asked how the PSG obtained the vaccine and which was used, health chief Francisco Duque, said the FDA was investigating. FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said his enforcement team had yet to complete its report.
- With a report from Reuters