A faith-based organization in Manila expressed alarm over the admission of President Rodrigo Duterte that some soldiers and government officials have already received COVID-19 vaccines.
On Dec. 26, the president announced on television that many people “have already been injected” with a vaccine from China.
“Many soldiers have been vaccinated. I have to be frank, I have to tell the truth… not all soldiers, not all soldiers, because it is not a policy yet,” said Duterte.
Father Dionito Cabillas, lead convener of faith-based group Isaiah Ministry, said the decision to inoculate some soldiers and officials is “illegal and dangerous.”
“As far as we know, there is no COVID-19 vaccine that [the government] has approved yet,” said the Philippine Independent Church priest.
“The use of unsanctioned vaccines can cause harm to people,” he said.
In a statement, Judy Taguiwalo, spokesperson of the non-government group CURE COVID, said the move “is an affront to health and vaccine equity that the global community aims for.”
“It also shows a glaring disregard for health standards, regulations and protocols that the administration itself had set up to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for public deployment,” added Taguiwalo.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año confirmed on Dec. 28 that some members of the Cabinet and the Presidential Security Group (PSG) have been injected with the China vaccine.
He said it was administered under the “emergency use authorization,” which he claimed can be used for health workers and frontliners “even though they are not formally and finally approved.”
Military spokesman Major General Edgard Arevalo that there was no “Armed Forces of the Philippines leadership-sanctioned vaccination.”
In a separate statement, the military official said PSG members “were the first ones from the [Armed Forces] who were vaccinated owing to the nature of their mission and function.”
He said the military establishment has “taken cognizance of the fact” that members of the PSG have “taken a bold step to try the vaccine to protect the president.”
The government earlier announced that about 1.76 million health workers are on the top of the list of priority recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine once it is made available.
Taguiwalo said the “illegal” and “selective vaccination” of a few members of the military and top government officials shows “an exclusivist attitude by the Duterte administration.”
“It is disappointing to us that the president has shown his preferential treatment for the military, police, and other state security forces even over our frontline health workers,” she said.
Father Cabillas called on the government “to be transparent” and “put the people at the center of every action in battling the pandemic.”
“Information about this vaccination of members of the military should have been made public,” said the priest.
He said the government must prioritize frontline healthcare workers “because COVID-19 is not fought with guns.”