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.”


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.