PNP distances from ‘VIP vaccines’ fiasco while military denies vaccine program

PNP distances from 'VIP vaccines' fiasco while military denies vaccine program
File photo shows Metro police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas speaking at a press conference in Quezon City. He was named PNP chief reportedly for his record as an anti-drug crusader.

MANILA, Philippines — Ranking execs within the national police Monday distanced from the fiasco involving Cabinet and military officials who acquired and took coronavirus vaccines before they were approved by health authorities who were supposed to be vaccinated first.

"Sa PNP, wala pa akong alam. Of course I will be happy na maconsider na first mabakunahan, it helps us kung kami maconsider," Police Gen. Debold Sinas, the chief of the Philippine National Police, said at a press conference held in San Fernando, Pampanga on Monday morning.

RELATED: Some Cabinet members, troops get vaccines ahead of FDA approval

This comes after no less than President Rodrigo Duterte first claimed at a public address over the weekend that "many" Filipinos including some members of the military, had already received the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año later admitted that members of the Presidential Security Group had indeed been vaccinated.

The Presidential Security Group, however, is composed of personnel from both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police as well.

For his part, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP deputy chief for administration, said in a separate statement that the PNP will "first seek guidance from the [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases] through [the Department of Health] and DILG" in the event that the agency acquires the non-FDA approved Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine

The Palace earlier in December said that 1.76 million health workers are first on the list of priority beneficiaries for COVID-19 vaccination. Uniformed personnel like the military are fifth priority in the government plan to vaccinate 24.7 million Filipinos against COVID-19.

No AFP-sanctioned vaccination in the military, spokesperson says

Speaking at the Laging Handa public briefing on Monday, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said that there were no official AFP vaccination programs but stopped short of confirming reports, saying the military would have to confirm them first.

READ: AFP personnel have received Sinopharm vaccine, Duterte says

"First of all, we want to mention that there is no AFP sanctioned inoculation or vaccination for members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Given that information, we will have to validate what the president said. What we are sure about and what we are thankful for is that the AFP will be counted among frontliners when the vaccines become available," he said in Filipino. "If there are reports coming out, let us validate the information. We will defer that question to the AFP Health Services Command for the policy."

Asked if the AFP would be willing to submit to an inquiry by the FDA, Arevalo said: "That's a hypothetical question. Let's find out what happened first."

He later issued another statement admitting that it was indeed AFP personnel under the PSG who received vaccines, adding that the PSG members simply took a "bold step to try the vaccine to protect the President."

"Because the safety of the President equates to national well-being, that security posture should necessarily include protecting the Commander-in-Chief from contracting the deadly virus from those he is constantly exposed to, like the members of his security detail," he wrote.

Whether the vaccination was meant to protect the President or not is beside the point, as the Palace earlier in December said that 1.76 million health workers are first on the list of priority beneficiaries for COVID-19 vaccination while uniformed personnel like the military were the fifth priority in the government plan to vaccinate 24.7 million Filipinos.

The vaccine by the China government-run SinoPharm is, as of this post, still unlicensed in the Philippines with no final test results yet nor an application for Emergency Use Authorization. According to the Philippine Food and Drug Administration, the importation, distribution and use of the vaccine is still illegal.

READ: Roque justifies soldiers getting jabs of unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine

But Palace spokesman Harry Roque saw things differently, saying at a press briefing later Monday: "Let's just accept that our military who guards our security is now safe from COVID when they can do their job. I don't think [Duterte authorized the inoculation of soldiers.] It must have been the decision of the commanders and the soldiers."

"It's not illegal to be vaccinated with an unregistered vaccine. What is prohibited is the distribution and sale," he said.

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