U.S.’s Azar twits Russia as D.O.H. vows vaccine scrutiny

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THE Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday experts and the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will thoroughly study the safety and effectiveness of the Russian-proferred vaccine for Covid-19 before administering it, as a top US official said the point is not to be first, but to have a safe and effective weapon against the pandemic.

The United States had recently sent its Health Secretary and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to Taiwan, which is hailed among those that have best managed their response to Covid-19, but which is excluded from the World Health Organization (WHO) because of a standing One China policy.

Asked to comment on Russia’s dramatic announcement on Tuesday that it was the first to have registered a vaccine for Covid-19, Azar said during a teleconference: “This is not a race to be the first. What is important is that we provide a safe, effective vaccine and the data be transparent.”

He added: “Our biochemical laboratories across the globe will deliver, as quickly as it can, [the vaccine] for the use of the United States and the people of the world.”

Of the hundreds of vaccines being developed around the world, Azar said the US has six vaccines and two are under clinical trial, and that “Russia [is] only now beginning. Their data was not disclosed while the USA has to pass through the Food and Drug Administration [FDA], to be proven safe and ethical.”

He added: “We believe that we are on track towards having tens of millions of doses by December of FDA gold-standard vaccine, and hundreds of millions of doses as we go into the new year.”

He said the US government has announced its cooperation with Moderna, an American biotechnology company, “to secure the supply of Covid-19, thanks to the Warp Speed initiative of President Trump.”

Responding to Trump’s call to develop 300 million doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine by January under Operation Warp Speed, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and AstraZeneca are collaborating to make available at least 300 million doses of a a coronavirus vaccine called AZD1222, with the first doses delivered as early as October 2020.

Asked whether Trump is not trying to politicize the Taiwan visit — coming just three months before the US election — Azar replied, “My visit is about health, the health of the people of Taiwan and the health of the United States of America and the people of the world in transparent, cooperative, collaborative way, and to learn how Taiwan has managed to deal with the pandemic—less than 500 cases, most of them imported, and seven death.”

Azar is the highest US official to visit the self-governing island since formal diplomatic relations were severed in 1979 in deference to China.

Despite hewing to the One-China Policy, the US has supplied the island-nation with the latest fighter jets and armaments, hoping to keep at bay the giant neighbor across the Taiwan Strait, which has vowed to retake Taiwan by force if necessary.

However, Azar justified his latest foray in the international arena, saying the US wanted to maintain its friendship with Taiwan, praising its excellent health care system and vowing to help the country to join the World Health Assembly (WHA), which China had opposed.

“We wanted to see how Taiwan manufactures the face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) through its machining factory,” Azar said, adding, “Taiwan donated PPE to the US.”

After meeting senior Taiwanese officials, including President Tsai Ing-Wen, Vice President Lai Ching-Te and a host of  academic leaders on infectious diseases, Azar said, “my message is to focus on deep partnership and friendship and recognizing Taiwan’s  vibrant leadership.”

He congratulated Taiwan as a model of healthcare, “against the Chinese who should have disclosed more cooperatively regarding Covid-19.”

As some people cast doubt on the Russian-made Covid-19 vaccine, given its incredibly quick timeline and the need for it to undergo the third level of massive clinical trials, a DOH official assured the public that Philippine experts and the FDA will thoroughly study the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine before administering it.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie also said the Department of Science and Technology was to meet Wednesday (August 12) with the members of the Gamaleya National Research Center who developed the vaccine dubbed Sputnik V.

“We can assure the public that it will undergo our procedures even if it already passed their procedures in Russia. We have this vaccine expert panel which provides recommendation to the national government — what is safe, what is the effect to the population,” Vergeire added.

Meanwhile, the DOH said that for the Avigan (an anti-Covid drug) trial, the project will be implemented in selected hospitals in National Capital Region including the Philippine General Hospital, Sta. Ana Hospital, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Quirino Memorial Medical Center.

The project will run for nine months. Recto Mercene, Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco

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