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Duterte Said He Would ‘Be the First’ to Try Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine in the Philippines

Despite experts questioning Russia’s rushed approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed trust in Vladimir Putin, even saying that he would volunteer to be the first to try the vaccine when it arrives in the Philippines.

“Me, when the vaccine comes, so no one will doubt, I will get injected in public. I will be the first to get experimented on,” Duterte said on Monday, Aug. 10.

“I will tell President Putin that I have great trust in your studies in combatting COVID and I believe that the vaccine that you have produced is really good for humanity.”

In the same public address, Duterte called Russia a “friend” and said that Putin has offered to send vaccines to the Philippines for free. The Philippine president noted that the vaccine would still have to go through clinical studies, wherein it will be injected on volunteers.

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“To show that I trust [Russia] and that they didn’t make a mistake in offering [the vaccine]…I will get vaccinated first,” Duterte added.

On Tuesday, Aug. 11, after less than two months of human testing, Russia declared itself the first country to approve a vaccine for COVID-19. During a government meeting broadcast on state television, Putin said the vaccine was safe.

“I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the necessary checks,” Putin said.

The vaccine was developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute and named “Sputnik V,” a reference to the world’s first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Putin also said that one of his daughters has been vaccinated and, despite recording a slightly higher temperature after each dose, she now “feels well.”

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However, Russia has not actually released scientific data on its testing for the vaccine, CNN reported. The vaccine also has not gone through the third of four phases of trials vaccines are subjected to. Medical experts are now concerned about its safety since Russia’s vaccine was approved before trials were completed.

“Ultimately, I’d be a bit terrified of taking a vaccine that has rushed through the process of development,” epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz wrote in The Guardian.

“Vaccines are, by definition, given mostly to healthy people, which means they have to pass the highest bars for safety of any medical intervention around. Even minor risks of severe issues are often unacceptable, which is why we do these enormous trials with tens of thousands of people.”

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Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn also raised concerns.

“It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I’m very sceptical about what’s going on in Russia,” he said on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Duterte’s government, meanwhile, is still keen on trying the vaccine. In a statement sent to media on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said: “As we have said, the Philippines is ready to work with Russia, on clinical trials, vaccine supply and production, among others, subject to our existing laws and local processes.”

The Philippines had 143,749 COVID-19 cases and 2,404 deaths as of press time.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.

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