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Duterte accepts Russia's offer to take part in vaccine trials

MANILA: The fact that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has volunteered to take a Russian coronavirus vaccine is not a joke, said his spokesman.

"He's old. He can sacrifice his life for the Filipino people," Mr Harry Roque said yesterday.

He said Mr Duterte was serious when he made the comments on Monday.

Mr Duterte had said: "I believe the vaccine that you have produced is really good for humanity. I will be the first one to be experimented on."

The Philippines has among Asia's highest number of infections, which rose to 143,749 yesterday.

Manila has accepted Russia's offer on clinical trials, vaccine supply and production, and Philippine health authorities said they were scheduled to meet the Russian drug developer Gamaleya.

But Western scientists have raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting corners may have been cut.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar echoed those concerns yesterday as he wrapped up a three-day visit to Taiwan.

"It's important that we provide safe, effective vaccines and that the data be transparent... This is not a race to be first," he said. "I should note that two of the six US vaccines that we've invested in entered the phase three clinical trials weeks ago that the Russian vaccine is now only beginning.

"The data from the initial trials in Russia have not been disclosed, it's not transparent."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman in Geneva, Mr Tarik Jasarevic, said it was in "close contact" with Russian health authorities but that it was too soon for any WHO stamp of approval for the vaccine.

"Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data," he said.

The German health ministry told newspaper group RND that "there is no known data on the quality, efficacy and safety of the Russian vaccine", adding that "patient safety is of the highest priority".

Russia rejected the safety concerns as "groundless".

"It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that... are completely groundless," Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said yesterday. - AFP

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