Doctors and health workers caught administering unregistered coronavirus vaccines will be banned from professional practice, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.
In a joint statement, the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration warned anew against the use of COVID-19 vaccines without regulatory approval.
“We will investigate the illegal administration of unauthorized smuggled vaccines, specifically doctors and other medical professionals who administer them. We will have their medical licenses revoked,” Duque said in a statement issued late Thursday. “We doctors have an oath: do no harm. In a pandemic, we need to be more circumspect.”
Apart from the early vaccination of members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail weeks ago, there are also unconfirmed reports of lawmakers allegedly receiving vaccine doses in makeshift clinics inside luxury hotel rooms.
“I’m not buying the explanation that the doctors administering the shots are being pressured by lawmakers. Someone is peddling the service and it is unacceptable,” the Health chief added.
Duque deems the early vaccinations illegal, contrary to claims made by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque that the Presidential Security Group acted in the name of “national security” and did not violate any laws for accepting and inoculating the donated doses. Details of these vaccinations have been hazy and are given piecemeal, with Cabinet officials including Duque saying they were not aware of the scheme.
Countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore and China have started mass vaccinations against COVID-19 – beginning with hospital workers – after approving select foreign-made vaccines for emergency use. The Philippines has yet to approve any coronavirus vaccine, with the FDA expecting the earliest approval within January.
On Friday morning (Manila time), US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer secured clearance from the World Health Organization for emergency use, which should fast-track its approval among state regulators.
Pfizer applied for emergency use approval from the FDA in December, but the vaccine is still under evaluation to take into account “possible risks to the public,” Director General Eric Domingo said in the joint statement.
The DOH and FDA are working with the Bureau of Customs to block shipments of unauthorized vaccines and other medical products. The agencies are also probing the incident involving the PSG, with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirming that the vaccine doses were smuggled into the country.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are carrying out separate investigations on the vaccination of the PSG, including reports also implicating select members of the military.
“Our frontlines have been struggling with the rising cases from the beginning. This will only make the situation worse. The risks cannot be denied and may even prove fatal to some,” Duque said.
The Philippines had 474,064 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 2020, with 25,024 active infections and 9,244 deaths.