COVID-19: Philippines to Start Trials of Russian Vaccine in October

Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Cotabato, Philippines
200813-PH-vaccine-620.jpg Philippine health workers assist residents and conduct COVID-19 swab tests inside a gymnasium in suburban Navotas city, north of Manila, Philippines, Aug. 10, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Trials of a Russian-made vaccine for COVID-19 will begin in the Philippines in October, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday, indicating that the nation’s leader would take the drug after the tests were over.

Phase 3 trials of the vaccine will take place simultaneously here and in Russia, starting in October and will go until next March, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a daily press briefing in Manila. The trials in the Philippines will commence after a panel of vaccine experts reviews results of clinical trials during the first and second phases of testing, he said.

Roque said Duterte was serious about a comment he made earlier this week in which the president offered to volunteer to take the vaccine, subject to his security detail clearing this.

“May 1 is when the PSG [Presidential Security Group] may allow him, after all the tests have been carried out for this vaccine,” Roque told a virtual press briefing. “Let me reiterate, the president can be vaccinated by May 1, 2021.”

“It’s not a metaphorical statement, he’s willing to undergo it,” Roque said, emphasizing that it would depend on final approval by Duterte’s security detail.

To assuage the public over concerns about the safety of the vaccine, Duterte on Tuesday said he was willing to be the first Filipino to take it during the trials.

The president said this while announcing that his government was accepting an offer from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that the Philippines be among the first nations to receive free supplies of the Sputnik V vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow.

Tuesday coincided with Russia becoming the country to register the world’s first vaccine against the coronavirus disease, as nations across the world race to develop a cure against the outbreak that has spread to all corners of the globe. The Russian vaccine is named after the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union more than 60 years ago.

Roque said the Gamaleya Institute and the Philippine health department had agreed to hold joint clinical trials here, to be funded entirely by Moscow.

“I am happy to announce that Russia is open to the transfer of technology for the local manufacturing of the vaccine,” Roque said. “In truth, they are also encouraging other countries to help manufacture their vaccine.”

Since taking power in 2016, Duterte has distanced himself from its longtime defense ally, the United States, and has drifted toward its traditional rivals, Russia and China.

He previously said China also promised to prioritize Manila when it developed its own vaccine against COVID-19.

On Thursday, the Philippine health department reported 23 deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 2,426. There were also 4,002 new infections, with the total number of infections in the country at 147,526 – the highest number coronavirus cases among all countries in East Asia.

There have been expressions of worry about Russia’s announcement this week. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top expert on infectious diseases in the U.S., said he doubted the news that the Russian vaccine was ready for public use.

“Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” Fauci said, according to The Hill, an American news website that covers the U.S. Congress.

Mark Navales in Cotabato, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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