1st COVID vaccine OK’d by Russia; PH offered supply

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    President Rodrigo Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo from the Office of the President of Russia)

    PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday said Russia has offered a supply for COVID-19 vaccines for the use of the country and expressed willingness to personally participate in trials.

    Russia became the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, according to President Vladimir Putin, speaking in Moscow.

    He said the grant of regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine came after less than two months of human testing.

    The development paves the way for the mass inoculation of the Russian population, even as the final stage of clinical trials to test safety and efficacy continue.

    The speed at which Russia is moving to roll out its vaccine highlights its determination to win the global race for an effective product, but has stirred concerns that it may be putting national prestige before sound science and safety.

    The World Health Organization and Russian health authorities are discussing the process for possible WHO prequalification for its newly approved COVID-19 vaccine.

    “We are in close contact with Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO prequalification of the vaccine, but again prequalification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a UN briefing in Geneva, referring to clinical trials.

    Regulatory approval paves the way for the mass inoculation of the Russian population and authorities hope it will allow the economy, which has been battered by fallout from the virus, to return to full capacity.

    Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, hailed the development as a historic “Sputnik moment,” comparable to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite.

    The vaccine will be marketed under the name ‘Sputnik V’ on foreign markets, he said. State media have trumpeted the news.

    President Duterte, during a meeting in Davao City with members of the Cabinet and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (AITF), said he thinks Russia would give the vaccine for for free.

    “Kaya ngayon, tinatanggap natin at kung ano ang supply, mag-usap pa kami kung ilan ang supply at kailangan natin… We are extremely grateful (We accept and we will just talk about the supply, how many we need… We are extremely grateful),” he said.

    The President said the country needs to make sure the Russian vaccine will be safe for Filipinos, noting there may be some components that are not compatible with other races.

    Duterte said he is willing to try the vaccine and take it in public, not just to determine if it is safe for Filipinos but also to show that he really trusts the Russians.

    “Para ipakita ko sa kanila na nagtiwala ako at hindi sila nagkamali nag-offer… ako ang unang magpabakuna. Tingnan natin kung puwede ba. Kung puwede sa akin, puwede sa lahat. Ngayon kung hindi puwede sa akin, eh iyan nga ang problema eh kasi siyempre bigay — ito libre ito (To show them that I trust them, and that they were not wrong to make the offer….I will be the first one to take the vaccine. Let’s see if it’s okay. If it’s okay with me, it’s okay for all. Now, if it is not okay with me, that’s the problem, but it is given to us, it is free),” he added.

    The President also urged the public to be patient, claiming that the vaccines may be available by September or October.

    Duterte hopes that the country would have a “COVID-free December and we can enjoy this Christmas season.”

    Putin, speaking at a government meeting on state television, Putin said the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, was safe and that it had even been administered to one of his daughters.

    “I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks,” said Putin.

    He said he hoped the country would soon start mass producing the vaccine.

    Its approval by the health ministry foreshadows the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.

    Such trials, which require a certain rate of participants catching the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.

    Regulators around the world have insisted that the rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines will not compromise safety. But recent surveys show growing public distrust in governments’ efforts to rapidly produce such a vaccine.

    Russian health workers treating COVID-19 patients will be offered the chance of volunteering to be vaccinated soon after the vaccine’s approval, a source told Reuters last month.

    More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.

    Meanwhile, the Department of Health said Avigan trials in the Philippines are set to begin Monday next week.

    “The drugs are here, and the protocols have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Ethics Board… A total of 100 patients will be recruited,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

    The Japanese drug Avigan (favipiravir) is an anti-viral drug that is used to treat influenza in Japan. More recently, the drug is being studied as a potential treatment for the COVID-19. — With Gerard Naval and Reuters