President Rodrigo Duterte had a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, a close friend of the Chief Executive, on Tuesday, Malacañang said.
This developed as 20 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine will arrive over the next four months with the first 500,000 arriving in April, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. announced Tuesday.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque declined to divulge what the two leaders discussed. Pictures provided by Malacañang, showing Duterte facing a screen with Putin's name and image, were released around 7 p.m. last night.
Duterte met Putin in Russia in 2017 and 2019. Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades, has never made an official trip to the Philippines.
Roque said he was compelled to make the announcement about the Duterte-Putin phone call after the President’s former aide and now Senator Christopher Go mentioned the schedule.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Go said Duterte was scheduled to discuss with Putin the efforts to further bolster cooperation between the Philippines and Russia in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Duterte and Putin were also expected to tackle efforts to boost the Philippines' COVID-19 vaccine supply, Go said.
The government is expected to finalize its supply deal with Russia’s Gamaleya National Center for 20 million doses of vaccines.
In an interview on ANC’s Headstart, Galvez said the arrival of the Russian vaccine is timely, given the shortage of AstraZeneca jabs.
Galvez said negotiations were ongoing, but he expected the supply agreement to be signed this week.
Like the vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac, the Sputnik V has been granted an emergency use authorization.
Galvez said the Gamaleya Institute, which makes the vaccine, has offered another 20 million doses should the Philippines need to order more. He also said the government will get these jabs at a price lower than the $10 price tag.
Based on the vaccine rollout prepared by Galvez, an initial 500,000 doses of Gamaleya vaccines may arrive this month, followed by two million doses next month.
An additional 4 million Gamaleya doses are expected to be delivered in June, while another 4 million shots will arrive in July.
Meanwhile, 194,000 doses of the vaccine made by the US company Moderna are expected to arrive in May.
The government has placed an order of 13 million doses from Moderna, while the private sector has bought 7 million doses.
Galvez said there has already been an agreement with the World Bank to facilitate the payment of the government's order.
Also, the head of the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP), Dr. Nina Gloriani, said Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac showed “remarkable” safety across all age groups, including the elderly.
Gloriani said the VEP’s recommendation to allow the use of CoronaVac on senior citizens was based on a review of data from Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials, publications, press releases from other countries, and the totality of evidence.
“Clinical trial findings showed that the Sinovac CoronaVac is well tolerated among older individuals,” Gloriani said during a Department of Health (DOH) briefing.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of CoronaVac on the elderly last week.
FDA chief Eric Domingo earlier said CoronaVac showed 51 percent to 52 percent efficacy among the elderly.
Previously, CoronoVac was only recommended for clinically healthy individuals aged 18 to 59.
Experts reevaluated CoronaVac after several local governments were forced to halt their inoculation of senior citizens due to a shortage of AstraZeneca doses.
Gloriani said that individuals 60 and older are at an “increased risk” of severe illness and death due to COVID-19, especially if they have underlying conditions.
“The overall findings demonstrated that these vaccines induce neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and have good safety profiles both in the general population and the elderly,” she said.
Over one million people have been vaccinated in the Philippines as of April 11.
Another member of the VEP, Dr. Rontgene Solante, said the 50 percent efficacy rate of CoronaVac is significant protection.
So far, 3 million of the 3,025,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country are from Sinovac, a Chinese pharmaceutical firm.
"Sinovac is approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), approved by the VEP. That 50 percent efficacy rate is still very relevant, especially now that we have low supply of COVID-19 vaccines as we have a surge in cases,” Solante said during an online briefing.
Based on Philippine FDA evaluation of Sinovac, its vaccine has the following efficacy rates:
* 65 percent to 91 percent among healthy individuals aged 18 to 59
* 50.4 percent for health workers
* 51 percent to 52 percent on senior citizens or those aged 60 and above
Other vaccine brands granted emergency use authorization by the Philippine FDA — Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sputnik V — posted efficacy rates of 70 percent to 95 percent.
Solante stressed that the 50 percent efficacy rate is the threshold set by the World Health Organization, and that the benefits of getting a Sinovac jab are undeniable.
“Since what we have is Sinovac, we should focus on giving it to as many people as possible so we can see the total benefits of the vaccine.),” he said.
"Sinovac’s data also showed that 83 percent to 100 percent effective in prevention of severe COVID. That's a greater benefit," he said.
At the same time, Gloriani said the VEP might consider mixing different brands of vaccine, given the current shortage.
She said mixing brands should have “no issue” from an immunological standpoint.
“Our supply is scarce, right? Sometimes we have to be realistic about what vaccine we can give. We can’t delay the second dose for too long,” she said.
The DOH, however, had said earlier that there was still “no sufficient evidence” supporting the mixing of vaccine brands.
“That is still our position and the position of our experts and the FDA that whatever brand is used in the first dose should also be the same brand used for the second dose,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Monday.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against using only one vaccine brand for both doses but said people can receive both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots only “in exceptional situations” with at least 28 days interval.
In other developments:
* The Food and Drug Administration warned against using fake COVID-19 vaccines, which were detected in Mexico after confirmation of the manufacturer to the World Health Organization (WHO). The FDA, in its advisory dated March 30, said they received reports that the alleged vaccine identified as “BNT162b2” stating its manufacturer as Pfizer BioNTech “was administered to patients outside the authorized vaccination programs.”
* The government has yet to grant emergency use authorization to five more COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, FDA Director General Eric Domingo said Monday. During a briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte, Domingo said those still processing their applications are India's Bharat Biotech, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm. Moderna and Novovax have yet to apply for an EUA, he added.
* The Department of Information and Communications Technology on Tuesday launched a system that would speed up the vaccination process to as quick as 10 minutes. The agency held a pilot launch of the Vaccine Information Management System Immunization Registry or VIMS-IR in San Juan City, which will be later implemented in other localities,
ICT Secretary Gringo Honasan said. Under the system, individuals up for shots must first be checked for vital signs and have the data encoded into a master list for COVID-19 vaccination. When they get to the vaccination center, personnel can simply search for their names and ask for their consent, a process that should take less than a minute.
* A party-list group representing seamen on Tuesday expressed gratitude to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) for the upgrade in the status of seafarers in the vaccination program of the government.
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