Duterte indebted to Russia for vaccine offer, but must be approved by FDA first

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President Rodrigo Duterte meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia in 2019

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 11) — Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte is indebted to Russia for offering COVID-19 vaccines developed by their scientists, but added these will still need local approvals before distribution.

"Ang sabi ni Presidente, nagpapasalamat siya, he is grateful for the offer of Russia pero sinabi rin niya na kinakailangan din nating sundin ang batas na umiiral sa Pilipinas. Walang gamot na pupwedeng ibigay sa publiko na hindi dumaan sa FDA (Food and Drug Administration)," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said during his Tuesday media briefing. "Dadaan po 'yan sa proseso at naiintindihan ng Russians 'yan."

[Translation: The President is grateful for the offer of Russia but he also said that we need to comply with Philippine laws. No medicine can be administered to the public without FDA approval. It will undergo the process and the Russians understand it.]

READ: Russia claims it will soon approve the world's first COVID-19 vaccine, but major questions remain

For now, Duterte passed on a message of thanks.

"Tingin ko naman inarticulate ni Presidente 'yung gratefulness at utang na loob natin dahil sila ang pinakaunang nag-offer ng vaccine sa atin. Hinding-hindi makakalimutan ito ng sambayanang Pilipino 'yang kabutihang-loob na 'yan," Roque said.

[Translation: I think the President articulated the debt of gratitude to Russia since they were the first to offer a vaccine to us. The Filipino people will never forget that kind gesture.]

Duterte announced Monday night that authorities from Moscow have reached out with an offer of Russian-developed vaccines, even saying that he will be the first to receive the dose to test if it is effective. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Gamaleya Institute has registered the world's first vaccine and subjected his daughter to a dose, CNN International reported.

This comes amid concerns about supposedly incomplete clinical trials meant to confirm the vaccine's potency and possible side effects. However, Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev said last week that the doses made by Gamaleya Institute are "safe and effective," adding the vaccines can even be produced locally.

The Department of Health said Philippine officials are in talks with the Russian Direct Investment Fund for the provision of doses and setting up of manufacturing laboratories in the Philippines.

"The DOST (Department of Science and Technology) as the lead in the vaccine development portfolio will handle the conduct of clinical trials in accordance with the requirements of the FDA," the DOH said, adding it does not have the number of volunteers for clinical trials yet.

Russia offered to supply the Philippines with the vaccine, the first country to do so. Duterte had to request Chinese President Xi Jinping to prioritize the country for supplies once drug makers from the mainland complete clinical trials.

"Nagagalak siya (Duterte) dahil parang nagbunga na nga ang kanyang independent foreign policy na tayo'y kaibigan ng lahat at wala tayong kalaban [Duterte is glad to see that his independent foreign policy is bearing fruit, where we are friends to all states and enemies to none]," Roque added.

Moscow claims the move is a “Sputnik” moment – referring to how Russia, then part of the Soviet Union, launched the world’s first satellite.

Roque said the Russian vaccines will need to be validated locally, and the FDA may run its own clinical trials before doing a nationwide rollout.

This requirement may be waived if the FDA declares an emergency and releases the vaccines for "compassionate use." The official said Duterte is now wondering if there will be health implications if a person receives various vaccines developed by different pharmaceutical groups.

There are six potential vaccines under the third phase of clinical trials, with four of them coming from China.

RELATED: Health advocate optimistic COVID-19 vaccine will be available by end-2020, but thorough review needed

Just months in office in 2016, Duterte announced a "pivot" towards China and other states to reverse the Aquino administration's foreign policy stance said to be centered on the United States.

Treating all countries as allies was convenient amid the COVID-19 pandemic as it allows for greater collaboration, the Malacañang official said.

The same tone governs the state's approach to territorial disputes with Beijing over features in the South China Sea and with Malaysia over Sabah. Roque said Duterte will not let go of the Philippines' claim to Sabah but will not let it tarnish diplomatic ties.

Meanwhile, Roque shrugged off the recent issue involving newspaper Thai Rath, which branded the Philippines as the "land of COVID" in its banner headline. He asked Filipinos to be understanding of Thai journalists, saying it was their way to work around restrictive media policies there.