Lawmakers, critics decry early vaccination of military

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 28) — A number of lawmakers and critics slammed the vaccination of military personnel, which was done without regulatory approval and ahead of the supposed top priority sector — frontline health workers.

Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said that even if the vaccines were donations, as Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque suggested, approval from the Food and Drugs Administration is still needed before these can be administered. He further questioned why the inoculation was allowed, noting that the Chinese vaccine firm Sinopharm has not submitted application to the country’s FDA, even if only for clinical trials.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan also took offense at this development, saying, “Inunahan na ba ng Malacañang ang FDA sa pagtiyak na ligtas nga ba ang mga bakuna na ito?”

[Translation: Did Malacañang decide ahead of the FDA on ensuring the safety of these vaccines?]

President Rodrigo Duterte revealed over the weekend that "almost all soldiers" have been injected with the Sinopharm vaccine. Officials have confirmed that members of the Presidential Security Group were the first ones within the military to be inoculated "to protect" the President. Several Cabinet members have also received shots, according to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

READ: AFP: PSG members got vaccinated first to 'protect' Duterte from COVID-19

While Roque denied that authorization came from Duterte, the chief of the Philippine Army said orders were from "the chain of command of the armed forces," indicating it was approved by the President. 

Apart from the issue of FDA approval, the vaccination of the military disregarded the chain of priority laid out by the Duterte administration itself, lawmakers pointed out.

In the country’s vaccination road map, frontline healthcare workers are supposed to be the first to be immunized. They are followed by indigent senior citizens, other senior citizens, and the remaining indigent population. Military troops and police are only fifth in line.

Gaite said that on top of delays in receiving their special risk allowance and hazard pay, healthcare workers are now "set aside again" despite risking their lives on the forefront to save others.

Senator Imee Marcos remarked, “Walang gulangan sa vaccine! As asserted earlier, the principle should be 'highest risk, first,' not best konek, mauna."

[Translation: There should be no unfair advantage over the vaccine. As asserted earlier, the principle should be 'highest risk, first,' not those with the best connections.]

As for the Communist Party of the Philippines, the vaccination “smacks of privileged callousness,” as frontline health workers and other vulnerable groups now come second to the military.

Think tank Infrawatch, meanwhile, demanded that penalties be imposed on those who administer vaccines outside of clinical trials prior to any regulatory authorization. The group said such “diminishes confidence on our vaccine regulatory processes” and “reflects arbitrary prioritization” in terms of vaccine distribution.

“At its core, vaccine administration outside of clinical trials makes guinea pigs out of our own citizens,” it added.

Senator Franklin Drilon also said the use of unregistered vaccines will only be a blow to public confidence, which he noted is critical to the successful inoculation of Filipinos.

The Palace has defended the military’s inoculation, saying the soldiers willingly received the vaccines.

Senate President Tito Sotto III also justified the move, saying there is no reason for "the fuss," since the vaccines were not funded by the government.

He added, "There is no law that says you cannot take any medicine or vaccine that FDA has not approved."

FDA Director General Eric Domingo told CNN Philippines that under the current laws, those who have been injected will not be held liable. Those who will be criminally charged, he said, are the importers, distributors, and healthcare workers who gave the vaccine.

Domingo, however, reiterated the agency’s warning against the use of unauthorized vaccines, saying their safety, quality, and efficacy are not guaranteed.

RELATED: FDA warns unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine distributors of possible cases