MOSCOW: A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus disease walks in front of the Kremlin’s Spasskaya tower on Red Square in downtown Moscow. – AFP

MANILA: The Philippines plans to launch clinical trials for a Russian coronavirus vaccine in October, with President Rodrigo Duterte expected to be inoculated as early as May next year, the presidential spokesman said yesterday. Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman, made the announcement a day after Philippine scientists met with representatives of the vaccine developer, research facility Gamaleya, to discuss trials and information about the inoculation.

Russia on Tuesday became the world’s first country to grant regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, to be named “Sputnik V” in homage to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite. But its decision to grant approval before completing trials has raised concerns among some experts, who fear it may be putting national prestige before safety.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that all clinical trials would need to go through the regulatory process. Phase three clinical trials in the Philippines are due to run from October to March 2021, after a panel of vaccine experts completes its review on Russia’s phase one and two trials in September, Roque told a media briefing. Duterte is keen to access a vaccine and in July made a plea to China to make the Philippines a priority if it develops one.

The president has pledged that the Philippines, which suffered its biggest economic contraction in nearly three decades, would be “back to normal” by December even as it has been reporting record numbers of daily coronavirus infections since July. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 143,000 people and killed 2,404 in the Philippines. A strict coronavirus lockdown recently reintroduced in and around the capital Manila is unlikely to be extended beyond August 18, the presidential spokesman said.

Brazil state signs deal
In another development, the Brazilian state of Parana signed a deal Wednesday to test and produce Russia’s new coronavirus vaccine, though officials stressed they would have to be sure of its safety and effectiveness first. The vaccine would have to receive Brazilian regulatory approval and complete Phase 3 clinical trials, or large-scale testing in humans, before being produced in Brazil, said officials from the southern state. Production, if it goes ahead, would likely only start in the second half of 2021, said Jorge Callado, head of the state-run Parana Technology Institute, which signed the deal with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

“This is a very objective memorandum of understanding on technological exchange. It does not impose obligations, it simply enables us to work together,” he told a virtual news conference. He said that under the deal Russia would share the results of Phase 1 and 2 testing with the state. President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia had approved the vaccine, dubbed “Sputnik V,” in a world first, heralding it as a game-changer in the pandemic.

But international health officials have cautioned more testing and scrutiny are needed to ensure it is safe and effective. Brazil has become a popular testing ground for COVID-19 vaccines, since the new coronavirus is still spreading quickly there. The country has the second-highest number of infections and deaths in the pandemic, after the United States: more than 3.1 million and 104,000, respectively. Two experimental vaccines are currently in Phase 3 testing in Brazil, one developed by Oxford University with pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca and the other by Chinese laboratory Sinovac Biotech.- Agencies