Scams plague Philippines' Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

So far, only 11 million out of more than 100 million Filipinos have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - Scams are bedevilling the Philippines' massive vaccine roll-out, with doses and even slots for inoculation against Covid-19 being sold on the side by profiteers.

Government agents last week arrested a nurse and two others, as they were trying to sell 300 doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine for one million pesos (S$27,400).

The buyers were mostly Chinese migrant workers, said Mr Ross Jonathan Galicia, a task force head at the National Bureau of Investigation.

The three suspects were said to be part of a larger group carrying out the vaccines-for-sale scam.

Covid-19 vaccination is free under the Philippines' national programme.

"We believe this type of unscrupulous activity not only hampers the efficient and effective roll-out of our national vaccination programme, but also puts our countrymen in danger with the selling and eventual use of unverified vaccines," Mr Carlito Galvez, the Philippines' "vaccine czar", said in a statement on Saturday (July 3).

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said the vaccines that the trio were trying to sell did not come from Manila's vaccine allocation.

The Manila hospital where the nurse was working at said he was never part of its inoculation team or had anything to do with its vaccine distribution.

Mr Galvez said the lot numbers of the seized Sinovac vaccines had already been identified.

Agents were already tracing where the doses came from, and how the suspects had managed to get hold of them, he said.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration is also reviewing the lot numbers and batch codes of vaccine doses being shipped to the country to make sure these are ending up where they are supposed to and not being pilfered.

"We need to determine if illegally sold vaccines are from government supply or from unauthorised sources," the agency's head Eric Domingo said in a radio interview on Sunday.

Weeks earlier, the police busted another ring selling slots for those still not qualified to get a Covid-19 vaccine shot for 6,000 pesos to 15,000 pesos. This syndicate included the son of an elected official and a fire bureau volunteer.

The Philippines has been trying to speed up its vaccine roll-out to head off an outbreak of the deadly Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Unlike many of its neighbours, the country has seen Covid-19 infections fall in recent weeks, as border controls manage to check the spread of the Delta variant.

So far, only 11 million out of more than 100 million Filipinos have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The Philippines has received more than 17 million doses since it began inoculating its population in March.

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