MANILA — The Philippines will accept an offer for a pending Russian coronavirus vaccine once a supply becomes available, President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday, soon after he discussed a similar deal with China.
The Philippine leader even offered himself as a test subject for the Russian-made vaccine.
“I’ll volunteer to take it in public,” Duterte said. “I’ll be the first to be experimented on.”
Russia plans to approve a coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday. But because the candidate has not completed clinical trials, critics from Western nations question the product’s safety.
Yet Duterte expressed gratitude Monday that Moscow is willing to share its supply with the Philippines.
“I’m very happy because Russia is our friend,” he said. “They said they will give the vaccine.” Duterte thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin by name.
Igor Khovaev, Russia’s ambassador to the Philippines, told reporters Friday that Moscow has developed a “safe and effective” vaccine that is ready to be supplied. The Southeast Asian country is also a candidate to be a production site for the vaccine, Khovaev said.
Upon approval, mass production is to begin as early as September, with free injections available to health workers and other risk groups in October at the soonest.
Duterte expressed hope that Russia would provide the vaccine for free, unlike the U.S., which would expect compensation. But Moscow has stopped short of saying the supply would be free.
The Philippines has reported 136,638 COVID-19 infections, including a daily record 6,958 new cases Monday. The country has re-imposed tough restrictions on travel and other activity in Manila and elsewhere.
China represents the second prong of Duterte’s vaccine diplomacy. During his state of the nation address in late July, Duterte revealed that he had asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to let the Philippines become one of the first recipients of a Chinese vaccine. Beijing has said it would give high priority to the request.
While Duterte has been known at times for making friendly overtures toward China and Russia, the scramble to defeat the virus appears to have added urgency to this approach.