MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted a Russian offer to provide a coronavirus vaccine and volunteered to be the first to be “experimented on” once it arrives in the country.
“I’m very happy that Russia is our friend. They want to provide a vaccine, so we are accepting it,” Duterte said in a late-night public address. The Philippines leader offered his “trust and gratitude” to Moscow for its willingness to “share its technology” and cooperate with Manila in the fight against the pandemic.
Taking it up a notch, the tough-talking former mayor of Davao City volunteered to take the first shot of the vaccine. “When the vaccine arrives, I will have myself injected in public, so people won’t say anything. I’ll be the first to get experimented on. It’s fine with me,” Duterte said, before relaying a message for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I have great trust in your studies in combatting COVID-19, and I believe that the vaccine that you have produced is really good for humanity,” he said.
Duterte was hopeful that with prospects of a COVID-10 vaccine, such as those being developed by Russia, the world would be free from coronavirus “as early as December.”
“Vaccines are to be distributed worldwide by September, October. It will be slowly released. Hopefully, we will have a COVID-free December and can enjoy the Christmas season,” he said.
His comments follow a statement by Putin on Facebook on Tuesday, saying that the “world’s first vaccine against coronavirus” will be registered in Russia within days.
“Russian scientists passed necessary test stages and proved the safety and effectiveness of the drug. Our medicine has adequately coped with the epidemic and now gives hope not only to our country but to the whole world. Once the Soviet satellite paved the way for humanity into space, now the Russian vaccine will pave the way to the future without COVID-19, masks and social isolation,” he said.
Another statement issued by Duterte’s office on Tuesday said the Philippines “appreciates Russia’s offer of cooperation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic jointly” and the government “stands ready to work with Russia on clinical trials, vaccine supply and production.”
“Like similar bilateral and multilateral arrangements, all cooperation initiatives will be consistent with protocols for testing and health standards. International cooperation is key to combat this global pandemic effectively,” the statement read.
Malacanang said that in keeping up with Duterte’s independent foreign policy, the Philippines government will continue to work with partners across the world to ensure access to a “safe vaccine.”
Russian Ambassador to Manila Igor Khovaev said on Friday that Moscow is willing to “closely cooperate with its Philippine partners” for the production of the drug.
“Regarding the Philippines, we have three options for cooperation: First, clinical trials if our Philippine partners consider it necessary; second, we are ready to supply vaccine to the Philippines; and third, the most promoted option, is local production of vaccine here in the Philippines,” Khovaev told reporters in a virtual press briefing.
He added that “this unique opportunity should not be missed.”
The Russian COVID-19 vaccine was developed by the Gameleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which Khovaev said was the same laboratory that created a vaccine against Ebola virus and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS.
Citing Russian scientists, he said the results from clinical trials on the coronavirus had been “promising.”
“Believe me, we don’t like risky undertakings. That’s why I’m saying again that the vaccine is effective and safe. It’s a necessary precondition that was articulated by Russian President Putin. We are responsible people,” he said.
Khovaev said about 20 countries had confirmed their interest in cooperating with Russia on the vaccine.