Special envoy to China Mon Tulfo facing probe for illegal use of Sinopharm vaccines

Metro Manila — President Rodrigo Duterte’s special ambassador to China, Mon Tulfo, will be investigated after he admitted to illegally using smuggled and unregistered COVID-19 vaccines made by Chinese company Sinopharm, officials said on Wednesday.

Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo said Tulfo’s case will be referred to the agency’s regulatory enforcement unit for investigation. Duterte designated Tulfo as Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy to China in 2018.

“Hindi maganda na nalalaman natin na may mga ganitong nagpapabakuna na hindi dumadaan sa tamang proseso,” the FDA chief said in a media briefing.

[Translation: It’s not good when we hear news that someone is receiving vaccines that did not go through the proper process.]

Health Department spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said those caught using and supplying vaccines that have not received emergency use authorization from the FDA, such as Sinopharm, can be penalized.

“Ito ay makakasama sa imbestigasyon. All of these things, kapag nakitang hindi ayon sa batas, will be considered illegal… Those people using vaccines without EUA and also suppliers supplying vaccines without EUA, ito ay iligal. Maaari kayong ma-sanction,” she said in a separate briefing.

[Trnaslation: This will be part of the investigation. If you do things not according to the law, it will be considered illegal. It is illegal to use and supplying vaccines without EUA. You can be sanctioned.]

Tulfo admitted in his column in the Manila Times on Feb. 20 that he was vaccinated with Sinopharm in October 2020 — way ahead of everyone else in the Philippines. He said he was vaccinated alongside some government officials and members of the Presidential Security Group, refusing to disclose the source of the vaccines.

In a television interview with One News on Tuesday, the presidential appointee revealed he got the unauthorized vaccines through a friend “who smuggled it into the country.” He also said he was inoculated alongside “Cabinet-level” officials and a senator.

He claimed the President knew of this covert inoculation — even requesting for “samples” from Sinopharm for Duterte and his family. This brand is Duterte’s vaccine of choice, his spokesperson Harry Roque has said in recent public statements.

Sinopharm has not yet submitted its application for emergency use in the Philippines. Domingo also denied preventing the entry of their vaccines by blocking its EUA application, adding no other group applied for compassionate use aside from PSG — which also used smuggled drugs. 

Tulfo said he chose to be inoculated with the unregistered Sinopharm vaccine because he applied to be one of the distributors of the China-made shots in the Philippines. He said he wanted to know if he would develop adverse effects after inoculation.

Because of this unapologetic admission from Tulfo, he is now part of the government’s investigation, Domingo said. He added that the PSG has not yet responded to the FDA and Health Department on their ongoing investigation.

The National Bureau of Investigation is also investigating the illegal vaccination operations, even expanding the probe into government officials who allowed the controversial inoculation despite the lack of regulatory approval.


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