Despite the illegality of using unapproved pharmaceuticals or drugs in the country, mounting demand for Covid19 vaccines is cultivating a black market in which they are sold for much more than their standard price.
One need look no further than the country’s own online gambling industry, where, according to Filipino-Chinese civic leader Teresita Ang See, about 100,000 Chinese citizens had already been vaccinated, as seen in Chinese media advertisements.
A source working in one such online casino revealed that Chinese workers would receive the Pfizer jab shipped in from China. Pfizer did not address this issue but instead reiterated that they would work with the Philippine government in securing a supply of doses.
Another source, a Philippines-based businessman, said he was approached by Chinese business owners to talk about supplying the Sinopharm vaccine to their employees. The smuggled vaccines would need to be declared as “supplements” in order to gain approval for importation by the Bureau of Customs (BOC). Local distributors, then, must agree to carry legal responsibility and sign a waiver saying that they will not resell the drug.
The businessman called it a “decentralized operation” and that many parties were interested.
Apart from baring pandemic inequalities, where ordinary Filipinos, healthcare workers and front-liners lack access to vaccines, the spread of Chinese firm Sinopharm’s candidate in developing countries has raised concerns that these vaccines are being used to gain a foothold in places where China wants to expand their influence.
Even President Rodrigo Duterte’s security detail, the Presidential Security Group, claimed that they had already inoculated themselves with Sinopharm, even without FDA approval. Amid public outcries of anger, defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana admitted that the vaccines were indeed smuggled but “justified”, since these men kept the country’s chief executive safe. Interior secretary Eduardo Año also earlier confirmed that at least one Cabinet member was also immunized.
Ronald Mendoza, dean of Ateneo De Manila University’s School of Government, said that the government’s use of unofficial and unregulated drugs could encourage further dependence on the black market. “They’re making the case that it was safe,” he said, adding that the underground market included fakes.
Ang See said that the government was “dragging its feet” in its procurement and approval of vaccines, which she said “gives a weapon to unscrupulous and greedy businessmen to circumvent the law because there is a demand.”
Last week the government announced that it had secured 25 million doses of the Sinopharm shot, with the first batch of 50,000 doses arriving next month. The Pfizer vaccine had also recently been approved for emergency use in the country, while deals are underway with other drug makers like AstraZeneca and Moderna.