Russia hopes to supply Philippines with ‘Sputnik-V’ COVID-19 vaccine by year’s end

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Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine against COVID-19 will soon be made available in the Philippines. (REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva)
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Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine against COVID-19 will soon be made available in the Philippines. (REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva)
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Updated 15 October 2020

Russia hopes to supply Philippines with ‘Sputnik-V’ COVID-19 vaccine by year’s end

  • If joint clinical trials are successful, Russia wants to share its technology with the Philippines and start local production of the Sputnik V vaccine
  • President Rodrigo Duterte says the Philippines plans to inoculate its entire 113 million population against the coronavirus

MANILA: Moscow hopes to supply the Philippines with the Russian COVID-19 vaccine by the year’s end if joint clinical trials prove successful, Russia’s ambassador to Manila, Igor Khovaev, told Arab News.

Touted as the world’s first, the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, known by the tradename Sputnik V, was registered by the Russian Ministry of Health in August and approved for distribution in Russia despite international criticism that it had only been tested in a small number of people during Phase 1-2 trials. The Phase 3 trial has yet to be conducted.

“We hope to launch these trials this November. We hope so. We Russians, we are ready to move forward as fast as it’s acceptable for the Philippine side,” Khovaev told Arab News in an exclusive interview earlier this week.

“If the results of (the) joint clinical trials Phase 3 are positive, the supply of Russian vaccine (in the Philippines) can start by the end of this year,” he said, adding that the Philippines and Russia are also in talks for a potential bilateral partnership in the local production of the vaccine.

“I believe that we are on the right track. Everything is now under consideration in the (Philippine) Department of Science and Technology (DOST). So, we maintain close contacts with your DOST, and DOST also maintains close contact with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the only Russian state-run institution which is responsible for distribution and production of the Russian vaccine,” the ambassador said.

“We provided your DOST with a bulk of information about the results of those clinical trials ... As for the final Phase 3, these trials should be conducted here on Philippines soil,” Khovaev said.

“It’s important because we fully understand that there are some people who can have doubts regarding the safety and efficiency of the Russian vaccine. And we believe that the best way to get rid of these doubts is to do joint clinical trials.”

According to the ambassador, the DOST had assured Russia that there would be at least 1,000 Filipino volunteers for the joint Phase 3 tests.

“If everything is OK, then after that we’ll be able to start discussing joint manufacturing. Because we are ready to share our technology with you Filipinos,” the envoy said.

In September, the DOST engaged with RDIF Senior Vice President Alexander Zhuravlev, who presented the Sputnik V vaccine to Philippine officials. Russia and the Philippines have already agreed to conduct the vaccine’s Phase 3 clinical trials, which were initially expected to take place from October 2020 to March 2021.

In a televised address on Wednesday night, President Rodrigo Duterte said that the Philippines would likely source COVID-19 vaccines from Russia and China, both of which had submitted applications to conduct clinical trials in the country.

He added that he wanted all 113 million Philippine citizens to be immunized against the disease.

As of Thursday, nearly 348,700 COVID-19 cases had been recorded in the Philippines, with 6,497 related deaths.

“All should have the vaccine without exception,” Duterte said, adding that Russia had pledged to build a pharmaceutical facility in the country.

Before the address, the president met Khovaev, who is soon ending his over five-year term in the Philippines.

“I just had a talk with the ambassador of Russia, the outgoing, and we had a serious one-on-one talk and they said that Russia is coming in,” Duterte said.

“They want to establish a pharmaceutical plant and their vaccine will also be made here.”

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan

Updated 26 November 2020

Foreign donors pledge $12 billion to Afghanistan

  • Facing uncertain future, Kabul promises to see through Taliban talks stalemate

KABUL: Afghanistan on Wednesday vowed to fight graft and hold officials accountable after an international donor conference renewed its conditions-based pledge to provide the country $12 billion in foreign aid over the next four years.

“Afghanistan feels committed and pledges for the sake of the nation, for the sake of God, for its future self-sufficiency to fight against corruption,” Shamrooz Khan Masjidi, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told Arab News.

“We want to work for good governance and for transparency and give accountability to the international aid,” he added.

The pledge was made during a two-day conference in Geneva which ended on Tuesday, where ministers from almost 70 countries and officials from humanitarian organizations spoke about funding cuts and tighter restrictions on vital aid for Afghanistan, marking further challenges for a country that is preparing for an early withdrawal of US-led troops and grappling with the pandemic.

And while the pledged amount falls short of the nearly $16 billion aid raised during a similar meeting in Brussels in 2016, Masjidi said it was a “major” sum considering the financial constraints faced by many countries amid the pandemic.

“Kabul, unlike in the past, expects donors to channel most of the aid through the Afghan budget,” he said, adding that the international community had expressed a willingness to release $3.3 billion next year and, based on a mechanism to be drawn by Afghan authorities and its representatives, review and extend more aid for 2022.

However, several of the donors imposed tough conditions for extending aid, such as progress in the intra-Afghan peace talks between the country’s government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which have reached a stalemate since they first began on Sept. 12.

The pledge comes amid uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future and an escalation in violence as the US plans a complete withdrawal of troops from the country as per an accord signed with the Taliban in February.

The Afghan government welcomed the $12 billion in aid on Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar labeling it a “success,” adding that the strict conditions set by the donors would renew focus on peace negotiations.

Taliban representatives were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News.

In the past, however, the group, emboldened by the February accord and US exit plan, has resisted pressure and repeated calls by Kabul and the international community to enforce a cease-fire.

Fawzia Koofi, a government negotiator who took part in the Qatar talks before returning home several weeks ago, said that both Kabul and the Taliban need to “grasp the delicacy of the situation” and the conditions attached to the aid.

“All sides now engaged in negotiations should know the urgency for peace in Afghanistan because both sides, especially the Taliban, must realize that the luxury of having the world and international community stand with us will not continue,” she told Arab News.

Koofi added that “peace and stability are vital for delivering services and good governance” in the country.

“And the worst scenario would be the international community losing hope for Afghanistan. I think both sides should understand that and show logical flexibility in the process,” she added.

However, experts said “shutting out” the Taliban from the Geneva conference “did not demonstrate inclusive peacemaking on the part of the conference organizers.”

“The Taliban can say to the donors ‘we were not present at the conference to give our view … and for stamping out corruption, please talk to your friend in Kabul,’” Torek Farhadi, an adviser to the former government, told Arab News.

Unlike in the past, the US said it had pledged $300 million in civilian aid for use next year and would extend another $300 million based on progress in peace talks. Washington has contributed about $800 million per year in civilian aid in recent years.

Farhadi said that with President-elect Joe Biden assuming power in the White House, there is a possibility of Washington expressing its view on the Taliban talks and proposing another conference involving the militant group.