Go: PH deepening its ties with key countries to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccine

Published August 10, 2020, 8:55 AM

by Mario Casayuran

The Philippines, under the leadership of President Duterte, continues to deepen its engagements with Russia, United States, and other countries to ensure that Filipinos would have access to the development and supplies of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines once these are made available, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong’’ Go said on Monday.

Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go (OFFICE OF SEN. BONG GO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Go, chairman of the Senate Health and Demography Committee, issued the statement after receiving a letter, dated August 1, from Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Philippines Igor Khovaev who informed him that Russia was nearing completion of the production of the vaccine against COVID-19.

Khovaev has subsequently confirmed that Russia has already successfully completed the clinical trials (phase 3) for the world’s first vaccine against COVID-19.

“Tatlong bagay ang nasa offer ni Ambassador Khovaev. Una, na dito rin sa Pilipinas mag-conduct ng clinical trials. Magsu-supply din sila sa atin ng bakunang ito kontra COVID-19.  At, pangatlo, plano nilang mag-set up ng local manufacturing dito mismo sa bansa natin,’’ Go said. (Ambassador Khovaev has offered three things: First, the clinical trials will be conducted here in the Philippines;  second, they will supply us  the vaccines against COVID-19;  and third, they are planning to set up local manufacturing here in our country.)

The vaccine, using the trade name “Avigavir,” has been developed by the National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology under the name of N.F. Gamaleya of the Russian Ministry of Health.

The center has previously developed successful vaccines against Ebola fever and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus. The vaccine research was supported by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). It was the RDIF that proposed to establish partnership with the Philippines in the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

“Dahil sa maayos na independent foreign policy of ‘being an enemy to none and a friend to all’ ni Pangulong Duterte, nasisiguro ng pamahalaan natin na meron tayong access sa development at, eventually, mga supply ng bakuna kontra COVID-19 mula sa mga bansa na itinuturing nating mga development partners,’’ Go explained.  (Due to the good independent foreign policy of ‘being an enemy to none and a friend to all’ of President Duterte, the government has been assured access to the development, and eventually, we will have the supply of the vaccine against COVID-19 from the countries we considered as our development partners.)

Go attributed President Duterte’s independent foreign policy for this, which is anchored on a national security policy that puts a balanced emphasis on the welfare and well-being of the Filipino people.

The senator from Davao also stated that the Philippine Ambassador to the United States, Jose Manuel Romualdez, confirmed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging two vaccine manufacturers to meet Romualdez anytime this week.  

“Inaayos ang pagpupulong between our ambassador to the United States and at least two vaccine manufacturers in the US (The meeting between our ambassador to the United States and at least two vaccine manufacturers in the US is now being arranged),” Go said.

Novavax is reportedly also interested in co-manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines.

The President, in his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), also revealed that he talked to his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping to ensure access of the Philippines to Chinese vaccine against COVID-19, Go said.

As of August 7, at least six vaccines are entering Phase 3 trials, according to Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization – Health Emergencies Program.

Phase 3 trials are conducted involving the general population and are required before making available to the public any vaccine produced to further ensure its safety.  They are designed to determine if the vaccine being developed can protect a large number of people over a longer period of time.  Previous trials had focused on safety, immunogenicity, and immune response in a smaller number of people.

To date, at least 165 vaccines against COVID-19 are being developed under various trial stages, with 26 of them now under clinical trials.

Go previously urged the national government to come up with a national vaccine program to ensure access particularly for the poorest of the poor and other vulnerable Filipinos should a vaccine against COVID-19 become available.  

“Unahin dapat ‘yung mga mahihirap na nangangailangan ng vaccine pero walang kakayahan na makabili nito. Dapat siguraduhing maging available, accessible at affordable ito sa lahat. Dapat pantay-pantay,’’ he said. (We should prioritize the poor who need the vaccine but do not have the means to buy it. We should also ensure that the vaccine will be available, accessible, and affordable to all. It has to be fair.)

The Department of Finance had earlier announced that it has earmarked P20 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, with Go also appealing to the government to allocate additional funds.

Go reminded concerned government agencies that they are expected to prioritize, coordinate, and report to the President and the Filipino people the developments on this issue of national importance.

“Patuloy po nating hinaharap ang epekto ng pandemya sa ating buhay. Bigyan natin ang ating mga kababayan ng balitang mas magpapalakas ng kanilang loob,’’ he added. (We continue to face the effect of the pandemic to our lives. Let us provide our countrymen with the information that will boost their morale). If everything goes according to plan, we will soon overcome this crisis as one nation.)