Philippine Food and Drug Officials: COVID-19 Vaccine Possible by Next April

Dennis Jay Santos and Jeoffrey Maitem
Davao and Cotabato, Philippines
100915-PH-covid-620.jpg A Philippine worker enforces social distancing rules at a bus terminal in Metro Manila, Aug. 19, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

A vaccine against the novel coronavirus disease could be commercially available in the Philippines by the second quarter of 2021, officials said Friday as confirmed cases in the country were on the verge of breaking the 300,000 mark.

Rolando Enrique Domingo, director general of the Philippines Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said this would be the “best case scenario.”

“It’s possible that by April 2021, we will have an approved vaccine,” Domingo said, emphasizing that the timetable could be achieved as long as clinical trials finished by December or January.

“Once completed, they can start the registration process with the FDA,” he said.

Several Chinese pharmaceutical firms, led by SINOVAC Biotech and Sinopharm, have received the green light for trials here. In addition, government officials recently said that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine would begin testing here by October.

Apart from those, 17 vaccine developers have been working with Philippine health officials, and six have signed confidentiality disclosure agreements that would allow the sharing of their trial results, the government said.

Meanwhile, 12 hospitals have been chosen as Philippine sites for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Solidarity Trial to discover whether any drugs slow the coronavirus progression or improve survival.

Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said the recruitment of trial participants could begin after the U.N.’s health agency releases its protocols and list of vaccines that would be used.

Patients, he said, would be selected from five to 10 villages nationwide that have a high number of COVID-19 cases.

“This is important because we want to test for efficacy of the vaccine and we will do it in phases where there is a high occurrence or attack rate,” dela Peña said. “If WHO will release the list of vaccines and protocols by October. That is the only time that we can start recruiting patients.”

The Philippines has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in East Asia and is second to Indonesia in the number of deaths. On Friday, the Philippine health department reported 69 new deaths, which brought the total to 5,196. There also were 2,630 new infections, pushing the nationwide total to 299,361 cases.

Globally, more than 32.2 million COVID-19 infections and nearly 984,000 deaths have been recorded, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Previously, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had said he was pinning his hopes on China and Russia developing vaccines and sharing them with the Philippines.

“If I were to try to answer a question of how fast it is developing, the dynamics is that we are in still waters,” Duterte said, referring to a vaccine.

Much of the Philippines remains under lockdown even after Duterte and his cabinet relaxed quarantine protocols. Shops, restaurants and other business have been allowed to reopen following appeals from business groups trying to survive a sharp economic downturn.

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