By Jenina P. Ibanez, Vann Marlo M. Villegas
and Gillian M. Cortez, Reporters
THE PHILIPPINES is considering making a Russian coronavirus vaccine for local consumption after talks between Trade officials and the outgoing Russian ambassador, according to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The bilateral talks could lead to joint clinical trials and local manufacturing after regulatory approvals, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez and Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev talked about the vaccine and trade cooperation during a farewell courtesy call on Oct. 6.
The Trade department has been in touch with Russian agencies and companies for the sale and distribution of the vaccine locally, Trade Assistant Secretary Allan B. Gepty told reporters in a Viber group message.
“Russia is willing to venture provided there is a pharma company that can handle full-scale production of vaccines,” he said “This is something that the Philippines will have to prepare or build capacity for,” he added.
In the medium term, a local drug company can set up a “fill and finish” for the vaccine, or the process of filling the vials with the vaccine and packaging them for distribution, Mr. Gepty said.
“In the long term, a virology science and technology institute has been requested to be established (currently a bill is filed in Congress) to build the capability initially for R&D and eventually to have our own full-scale vaccine manufacturing,” he added.
He said there is a Food and Drug Administration ethnicity requirement to approve the vaccine, while most subjects in the clinical trial are Russians.
Trade Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo said Russia would follow Philippine regulations, including joint third-phase clinical trials.
The Science and Technology department is talking with Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, which is developing the Sputnik V vaccine.
Russia was the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, which it did before completing large-scale trials. Critics have questioned the safety of the experimental vaccine since vaccines take years to develop.
The Department of Health reported 2,363 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 331,869.
The death toll rose by 144 to 6,069, while recoveries increased by 697 to 274,318, it said in a bulletin.
There were 51,482 active cases, 85.7% of which were mild, 9.8% did not show symptoms, 1.4% were severe and 3.1% were critical.
Metro Manila reported the highest number of new cases with 858, followed by Cavite with 309, Batangas with 139, Rizal with 112 and Bulacan with 97.
The Health department said 79% of the new cases occurred in the past two weeks.
Of the new deaths, 96 came from Metro Manila, 14 from the Calabarzon region, eight from Central Visayas, seven from Central Luzon, and six each from Western Visayas and the Caraga region.
The Davao region reported two new deaths, while the Ilocos region, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Soccsksargen and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) reported one each.
More than 3.7 million people have been tested for the disease, the agency said.
Meanwhile, the World health Organization’s (WHO) solidarity vaccine trials are expected to start at the end of the month after the WHO finalizes the list of vaccines that will be used, Jaime Montoya, executive director at the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, told an online news briefing.
The trials will be conducted in 100 countries, he added.
Mr. Montoya said three vaccine developers have submitted applications for phase 3 clinical trials in the Philippines. These are Gamaleya Research Institute, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. A panel will review the applications before these are sent to the Food and Drug Administration.
Also on Thursday, the government will focus on managing risks as part of a plan to gradually reopen the economy amid the pandemic, said Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., chief enforcer of the state’s anti-coronavirus efforts.
The action plan against the coronavirus is in its third phase, he said. “Phase 3 will be our transition plan to the new normal from the last quarter of this year, rolling down the road toward the first quarter of 2021.”
Meanwhile, a group of medical, research and business experts has started a campaign to allay fears about the pandemic.
“We agree that it’s important to contain COVID-19 infections,” Iggy Agbayani, an orthopedic surgeon, said in a statement.
“However, it is also important to manage the level of fear that people are experiencing in many communities throughout the country,” he said. “By spreading the right medical information, we can flatten the fear and help end the lockdown.”
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr., president of think tank Minimal Government Thinkers, said the anxiety and reduced mobility due to the lockdowns have led to the closure of several businesses and worsening hunger and poverty.
Health workers and coronavirus patients and survivors have been discriminated against because of fear and panic, he said.
The group urged the government to adopt a protocol in prevention and early treatment of coronavirus patients. It also said it wanted to meet with medical advisers of the an inter-agency task force against the virus.
“With the good health of both our economy and our people assured, we will truly begin to heal as one,” it said.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte kept Metro Manila, Batangas province and the cities of Tacloban, Bacolod, Iligan and Iloilo under a general lockdown until Oct. 31. Lanao del Sur remains under a stricter quarantine.
The rest of the country is under a more relaxed modified general quarantine.