Duterte's foreign policy tack will secure PH access to COVID-19 vaccine

Malacañang is confident that President Duterte's friends-to-all-enemies-to-none foreign policy will help the Philippines get first dibs on a COVID-19 vaccine that will be developed by any country.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on July 15, 2020. KING RODRIGUEZ/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the statement after various reports over the past weeks that vaccines developed by countries like the United Kingdom, Russia, and China yield positive results.

In his Thursday presser, Roque said it does not matter how much will these vaccines cost or who makes them as long as the Philippines is able to get its hands on the vaccine.

"Ang sabi ni Presidente kahit magkano 'yan hahanapan niya ng pondo. So 'wag na tayo mag-usap kung magkano 'yan (The President said it doesn't matter how much is it. He will look for funds so let's not talk about the budget)," he said.

He added that the President's independent foreign policy will also help the Philippines secure vaccines.

"Tayo po ay may independent foreign policy at dahil po diyan, dahil kaibigan tayo ng lahat--ng China, ng Russia, ng America, ng Europa---na kung sino man ang maka-develop ng vaccine ay tayo po ay tinuturing na kaibigan nila (We have an independent foreign policy where we are friends with everyone--China, Russia, America, Europe---so whoever develops a vaccine, we're friends with them)," he said.

President Duterte has said that he was willing to sell all government assets to buy vaccines for COVID-19. However, Roque said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is against this.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said this week that the Department of Foreign Affairs was already "positioning" the country for negotiations with various manufacturers abroad, particularly with drugmakers in China and Taiwan for a possible deal on a COVID-19 vaccine.

Chinese President Xi Jinping had assured President Duterte that the Philippines will be among the first countries to get a vaccine against COVID-19, a disease that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, once it is developed. The China National Pharmaceutical Group (SinoPharm) said this week that a vaccine could be ready by the end of 2020.

Studies published in The Lancet medical journal showed that two COVID-19 vaccine candidates have proven safe for humans and produced strong immune reactions among patients involved in two separate clinical trials.

The first trial among more than a thousand adults in Britain found that the vaccine induced 'strong antibody and T cell immune responses' against the novel coronavirus while a separate trial in China involving more than 500 people showed most had developed widespread antibody immune response.

Meanwhile, while the world raced to secure COVID-19 vaccines before they are even ready, the United States government has announced a $1.95-billion contract with Pfizer and a German biotechnology company BioNTech for 100 million doses by December.

Russia, on the other hand, said its first vaccine against COVID-19 was "ready" after two groups of volunteers have successfully completed clinical trials with all of them having "built up immunity."