Filipinos lamented another disregard to the COVID-19 vaccination priority list after Ramon “Mon” Tulfo, the government’s special envoy for public diplomacy to China, admitted that he was inoculated with a smuggled Sinopharm vaccine last year.
Tulfo claimed that there were other “Cabinet-level” officials and a senator—whose identity he did not disclose—who have similarly taken the jab as well.
He also claimed that some members of the Presidential Security Group have received the similar COVID-19 vaccine that has not yet earned an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the local Food and Drug Administration.
“I don’t feel guilty about it,” Tulfo said in a Tuesday interview with One News’ “The Chiefs,” as quoted from reports.
He added that he “got hold of the vaccine from a friend who smuggled it into the country.”
“I don’t see any conflict of interest here because I’m a private citizen,” Tulfo said, claiming that he is “technically not a government official” since his special envoy role is only “honorific.”
He likewise said that he has “risked” his life by having himself inoculated ahead of the public, according to his column on The Manila Times.
Tulfo wrote that he applied to be a distributor of the Chinese-made vaccine with a company called “Apollo,” which has supposedly secured a contract with a Singaporean subsidiary of Sinopharm.
But he denied using his position to secure a deal on local distributorship.
The columnist also accused vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. of being unresponsive to facilitate the delivery of the doses.
“But because ayaw ni Galvez, hindi alam ng China ngayon kung ano ‘yung gusto natin,” Tulfo said in his televised interview.
TV5 anchor Ed Lingao reportedly suggested that the vaccine czar might be hesitant since FDA has not yet issued an EUA for Sinopharm.
Reports note that in December 2019, the state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical firm said that its vaccine has a 79% efficacy rate.
But last month, the United Arab Emirates said that its efficacy rate was 86%, based on its interim results of the Phase III trials.
‘Citizens never a priority’
After Tulfo’s admittance of being jabbed with a COVID-19 vaccine, Filipinos turned to social media to express their distaste for the “VIP vaccination” that had occurred despite the presence of a vaccination priority list.
“Mon Tulfo getting vaccinated even before our healthcare workers are, simply shows that the poor & the ordinary citizens never was, and never will be a ‘priority.’ Hanggang sa bakuna, mayaman at makapangyarihan pa rin ang mauuna. Tandaan niyo ‘yan,” a Twitter user said in response to the reports.
“If we don’t speak up about this, hindi lang si Mon Tulfo ang gagawa into. Soon, more politicians, businessmen, and even the Chinese will be prioritized ahead of Filipinos,” the online user added.
“This regime, the hell with prioritizing its citizens!” another Filipino exclaimed in response to Tulfo’s column.
“So Pilipinas pa rin ang nauna sa bakuna, mga ulul. ‘Yun nga lang, VIP vaccination din. Parang last year. VIP testing ang nauna. T*ngina talaga ‘tong bansang ‘to, hindi pantay ang buhay,” a different Twitter user wrote.
Prior to Tulfo’s revelation, close-in security personnel of President Rodrigo Duterte has already been vaccinated with Sinopharm ahead of the supposed foremost priority sector—the healthcare workers.
Some officials justified the unauthorized move and said that it was supposedly done to “protect the president” who is considered a high-risk with his age.
A Palace official likewise claimed that the move was not illegal and that there were no public funds used in the process.
Despite this, Filipinos have expressed their outrage through the hashtag “#NotoVIPVaccination” as they recall how the incident paralleled with the VIP COVID-19 testing of officials in the first months of the pandemic.
Under the government’s priority list for vaccines, “frontline workers in health facilities both national and local, private and public, health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers, etc” are the first in line.
Next are senior citizens or people aged 60 years old and above and then persons with comorbidities.
Fourth are frontline personnel in essential sectors including uniformed personnel and those in working sectors identified by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases as essential during enhanced community quarantine.
Fifth are the indigent population not otherwise included in the preceding categories.
Over the weekend, a US-based non-profit media group National Public Radio, reported the fears and anxieties of Filipino health workers amid the sluggish rollout of vaccine in the country.
In the article titled “The Philippines Has Vaccinated Zero Health-Care Workers So Far,” some health workers disclosed that they have developed distrust in the national government’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign.