PSG vaccination could spark ‘scramble for shots’

The Presidential Security Group’s (PSG) vaccination against COVID-19 may evolve into a dash for vaccines while drug regulators have yet to approve any shot countering the dreaded disease, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“Especially that there is no reported bad side effect. It could,” Lorenzana said in a text message when asked on the matter.

Lorenzana, also chairman of the National Task Force against COVID-19, said he thinks that unauthorized importing and selling of vaccines was already happening in the country even before the PSG was confirmed to have inoculated its members.

“I think that is happening now. There are rumors that a shot costs P10,000 in Binondo,” he said, referring to the district in Manila that is home to many establishments selling Chinese goods.

Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that many soldiers have been inoculated with the vaccine made by China’s state-owned Sinopharm company, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve any vaccine.

The Armed Forces confirmed that those soldiers are members of the PSG, which has also admitted to vaccinating its personnel.

Lorenzana agreed that this revelation may cause more people to bring in, sell, and patronize anti-COVID 19 vaccines while FDA approval is pending.

Despite this, the defense chief said he has no problem with the PSG inoculation, and expressed confidence that the drug regulator and law enforcement agencies like the Bureau of Customs will continue efforts to stop the proliferation of unauthorized vaccines.

“That would be the job of the BOC and FDA,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies like the BOC, police, and the National Bureau of Investigation have, in the past few months, carried out raids against clandestine clinics and pharmacies selling and administering drugs against COVID-19.

The operations were conducted through the FDA’s regulatory powers.

In a radio interview, FDA director-general Eric Domingo maintained that any vaccine against COVID-19 remains “illegal” for now, and vowed to look into the one used by the PSG.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, in a television interview, said that aside from PSG personnel, one Cabinet member had also received a shot.

Government officials have denied sanctioning the inoculations but insisted that no law prohibits people from getting shots against COVID-19.

Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman, defended the PSG, saying it was the latter’s task to “ensure that the President is safe from all threats, including COVID-19.”

“We are in a state of war, a war against COVID-19. War compels us to survive as we are now doing in this pandemic. As such, PSG exploits all means in order to deliver its mandate,” PSG commander Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante said for his part.

Arevalo, however, called the vaccination a “bold step.”

Aside from bypassing the FDA and other regulatory agencies, the vaccination came even as only one of Sinopharm’s two vaccines was reported to have an efficacy of 86 percent.

Observers have also decried the fact that the PSG was given vaccines ahead of “frontliners,” or the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff battling the virus face to face, and even lawmen enforcing quarantine protocols at the streets.

Government officials previously vowed to prioritize frontliners, the elderly, and the poor for vaccination.

Año, also vice-chairman of the NTF against COVID-19, said in his interview over ANC that the Sinopharm vaccine given to the PSG was “donated” by someone with access to its country of origin and not purchased by the government.

It was not the first time for local officials to seek or receive donations of anti-COVID-19 drugs from China.

In late April, then AFP chief Felimon Santos Jr. asked China’s ambassador for help to procure Carrimycin, a drug also unregistered with the FDA, “for his friends.”

This was after Santos somehow managed to get some of the drug and recovered from COVID-19 after taking it.

Santos withdrew his request after being reprimanded by Lorenzana, but the latter said he understood what the then military chief felt and found nothing wrong with it. DBP

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