Philippines to probe use of illegal Covid-19 vaccines

MANILA The Philippine Health Ministry said yesterday it will investigate the illegal use of unauthorised Covid-19 vaccines, after a presidential adviser admitted to receiving shots of a Sinopharm vaccine smuggled into the country.

Mr Ramon Tulfo, a radio and television host and special envoy to China, revealed in his newspaper column and again in an interview with One News that he received a dose in October from a batch that was also used by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail.

"I got hold of vaccines from a friend who smuggled it into the country," he told One News.

News last month of Mr Duterte's bodyguard unit taking the vaccine, which it said was without his knowledge, prompted criticism from lawmakers about privileged access and flouting of laws.

Several government officials also received Sinopharm shots, Mr Tulfo said, adding to speculation that vaccines were available on the black market.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved use of the Sinopharm vaccine, making its importation and distribution illegal.

Sinopharm has not sought emergency use authorisation in the Philippines.

"We are investigating because it's not good to learn of these inoculations that did not go through proper procedures," FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said.

Philippine Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said recipients of unauthorised vaccines were also accountable.

Mr Tulfo, 74, said he had wanted to test the vaccine's efficacy as he was applying to be a distributor. "I don't feel guilty about it," he said.

The Philippines has yet to receive any Covid-19 vaccines that it has approved for emergency use, despite having one of the highest number of cases and deaths in Asia.

The country will let thousands of its healthcare workers, mostly nurses, take up jobs in Britain and Germany if the two countries agree to donate coronavirus vaccines, a senior official said on Tuesday. Britain's Health Ministry said it was not interested in a deal.

Ms Alice Visperas, director of the Philippine Labour Ministry's international affairs bureau, said the Philippines was open to lifting the cap in exchange for vaccines, which it would use to inoculate outbound workers and hundreds of thousands of Filipino repatriates. - REUTERS