Chinese firm Sinopharm had reached out to the Department of Health as early as May 2020 to conduct human trials of its COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines but did not get feedback from the agency, the vaccine's local distributor claimed Friday.
Two representatives of MKG Universal Drugs Trading Corporation — identified only as “Juan” and “Jose” in an interview on Dobol B sa News TV for security reasons —confirmed a letter dated May 2020 presented by broadcast journalist Arnold Clavio, which indicated Sinopharm's intention to conduct clinical trials in the country.
The MKG officials claimed had the DOH acted on this, the Philippines would have had a Sinopharm vaccine by now.
Meanwhile, the same officials denied Sinopharm’s involvement in the inoculation of military members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) using an unregistered vaccine.
“As to the recent distribution of the Sinopharm vaccine undertaken for the benefit of the PSG, MKG was not a part of it,” said MKG’s Jose.
The officials also could not say if the Sinopharm vaccine given to PSG was smuggled as earlier said by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“We cannot comment on that,” MKG’s Juan said, emphasizing their company will follow the law in distributing Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines.
“We are committed to follow the regulations in securing the EUA (emergency use authorization) and the distribution of the vaccine will start by the first quarter of 2021,” he said.
This is the second time the DOH has been accused of sitting on documents crucial to securing the country’s COVID-19 vaccine supply.
Last month, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. and Senator Panfilo Lacson said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III failed to sign the documents on time which would have given the Philippines access to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which has been proven 95% after human trials, by January 2021.
Duque has denied this, saying the DOH acted promptly on the confidentiality data agreement with Pfizer and such deal does not include vaccine supply.
On the Sinopharm vaccine, MKG’s Jose said: “Mauuna talaga dapat ang Pilipinas because of our good relationship with China, pero walang feedback [ang DOH]. Na-receive ‘yan, May 28, Office of the Secretary.”
“Dapat po talaga mauuna ang Pilipinas. Sa tagal ng inintay na mga dokumento galing sa DOH, medyo na-disappoint [ang Sinopharm], dinivert nila sa UAE, iyon ang binigyan nila ng priority sa clinical trials,” he added.
Interviewed on Super Radyo dzBB later in the day, Duque said he was not aware of any letter from Sinopharm.
"Wala akong alam, ang alam ko na nakapag-submit ng request for clinical trial, ang alam ko 'yung Janssen, yung iba pino-proseso pa," he said.
MKG’s Juan said their company has been engaged in bringing in Sinopharm dating to mid-March and April last year.
According to the MKG representatives, Sinopharm’s clinical trials in the United Arab Emirates were done in July to September and turned in good results.
“The clinical trial in UAE was very successful, 86% ang efficacy rate, done on 60,000 volunteers,” Juan said.
“Maganda talaga mag-clinical trial roon kasi andun lahat ng lahi, mga 125 nations [ang represented],” Jose added.
An EUA, which is issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), provides that evaluation of the vaccine shows it is safe and effective.
The MKG representatives said they already secured an FDA application and sent it to Sinopharm headquarters in China, which would submit the needed requirements for an EUA application to the FDA.
According to FDA Director General Eric Domingo, only American firm Pfizer has submitted an EUA application for the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech.
Under the FDA law, it is illegal to import, distribute, manufacture, use unregistered products, including vaccines.
PSG Chief PSG Commander Brigadier General Jesus Durante III said they inoculated themselves with the Sinopharm vaccine and only informed President Rodrigo Duterte, who first revealed the inoculation of some soldiers, after the fact.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. has justified the vaccination on PSG as a necessary step to protect the President.
Without identifying the source, administration officials had said the vaccine was a donation.