Senator and chair of the Senate Committee on Health Christopher “Bong” Go said that the Philippines, under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, continues to deepen its engagements with Russia, United States and other countries to ensure that Filipinos will have access to the development and supplies of COVID-19 vaccines once these are made available.

Go shared that Igor Khovaev, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Philippines, informed him in a letter, dated August 1, that Russia was then 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.

“Nagpahiwatig ang Russian government, through Ambassador Igor Khovaev, na natapos na nila ang clinical trials, ang phase 3, para sa vaccine against COVID-19. Kasalukuyang inaayos na lang ang mga government registration papers nito,” Go shared.

“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,” he confirmed.

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 COVID-19 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.

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

Go also shared 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,” Go also shared. Novavax is reportedly interested also in co-manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines.

The President, in his latest State of the Nation Address last July 27, also revealed that he talked to his Chinese counterpart to ensure access of the Philippines to Chinese vaccine against COVID-19.

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 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.

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

“Huwag sana pabayaan ang mga mahihirap. Paghandaan na natin ngayon palang. Magtabi na tayo ng budget para masigurong kakayanin ng gobyerno na matulungan ang pinaka-nangangailangan. Magkaroon po tayo ng plano kung saan dapat pantay-pantay at hindi lang ang mga may kaya sa buhay ang makakakuha,” he earlier urged.

“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.

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

“Ito ay upang mas marami pang mga kababayan natin, lalo na ang mga pinaka-nangangailangan, ang mabibigyan ng libreng bakuna. Ito ay alinsunod din sa nais ni Pangulong Duterte na unang mabigyan ng bakuna ang mga poorest of the poor and other vulnerable sectors,” Go further said.

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. If everything goes according to plan, we will soon overcome this crisis as one nation,” Go said.

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