Moscow to ship vaccine to PH

The Manila Times, 14.08.2020

Russia could ship to the Philippines the vaccine it developed for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) before the year ends, according to the chief executive of the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).

But first Manila must run clinical trials on the drug parallel to similar trials in Moscow, Kirill Dmitriev, RDIF chief executive officer, said in an exclusive interview with The Manila Times on Thursday.

RDIF is a sovereign wealth fund that supported the Gamaleya Research Institute in developing the Sputnik V vaccine.

Moscow is prepared to deliver the vaccine to the country once it is mass produced as long as the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) agree to confirm its safety, Dmitriev said.

“If we believe that if your health minister confirms and works well with us, we believe that the vaccine can be available en masse in the Philippines in November or December this year,” he added.

Malacañang, however, said the vaccine could be sent here in October.

While confident about the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine, Dmitriev urged the Philippine government to conduct its own clinical trials.

“We believe it is efficient to have Russian trials which will be done in a way that the Philippines and other countries can just accept those results. We are happy to conduct clinical trials of 1000 people for Phase Three,” he said, referring to the last stage of testing for the vaccine.

Twenty countries had agreed to hold the clinical trials in the hope of getting the first crack at Sputnik V.

Aside from the Philippines and Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are among the nations interested in acquiring the vaccine, Dmitriev said, adding he is open to a collaboration in producing the vaccine in the country as long as the machinery is available.

In a previous media forum, Health Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire indicated that any vaccine that would be introduced in the country must first undergo clinical trials.

Dmitriev revealed that in the first two phases of trials, 100 people were inoculated. The third phase will coincide with the mass vaccination of Russians starting this month.

“We expect to have vaccinated 40,000 people in mid-September” he said.

A Russian law allows three stages of trials for a vaccine while making it available for commercial use during a pandemic.

Dmitriev said that in the third phase, a flu vaccine would be used as a placebo.

Sputnik V was central to the country’s ongoing research on Ebola and the coronavirus disease Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) vaccine, Dmitriev said in explaining why it was developed in record time.

“We thought that the Gamaleya Institute had a great head start on other companies because of their work on the Ebola vaccine and the MERS vaccine,” he said.

When Covid-19 broke out, the institute used the same delivery platform for the Ebola and MERS vaccines called the human adenoviral vector, created from the weakened human flu virus instead of the mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) that other companies are using.

The vaccine uses two vector mechanisms, Vector 5 and Vector 26. If combined, it provides a longer-term immunity. To achieve this, Sputnik V must be administered twice.

“Two shots are needed, as after the first shot, people get to a level of a person who had Covid, but after the second shot, you get to a level of antibodies higher than people who had Covid, your immunity response will last for much longer.” Dmitriev said.

He said the human adenovirus vectors were tested on many people and there were no side effects noted.

Dmitriev said it was up to the DoH if President Rodrigo Duterte would be allowed to be inoculated with the Sputnik V, but he noted that he, his wife and his parents, who are both more than 70 years old, had had the shots.

He also answered criticisms about the haste in creating the vaccine, saying Russia has a legacy of developing vaccines using a proven and safe platform.

“Imagine, every year, you get flu vaccination, but every time they change it a little bit, because it is a different strain of flu. It does not mean that every time it gets into three phases of approval. This is the same, we had the platform already using, already safe, we slightly changed it.” Dmitriev said.