Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte volunteered to be the first person to receive Russia’s new coronavirus vaccine Monday, shortly after the Kremlin claimed to have registered it.
“When the vaccine arrives, I will have myself injected in public. Experiment on me first, that’s fine with me,” he said in a televised briefing Monday night. Duterte seeks to boost ties between the Philippines and Russia; he has previously heaped praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin, referring to him as his “idol.”
Duterte on Monday also offered Manila’s assistance to Moscow in clinical trials and local production of the coronavirus vaccine. He added that he was “delighted” the Kremlin had offered the unapproved vaccine to the Philippines free of charge.
“[T]hey didn’t say ‘pay for this.’ I think this is President Putin’s way of helping us; it’s free. So we are accepting it, and we will talk [about] how much of the supply we need,” Duterte said during his meeting in a mix of Filipino and English, as reported by Coconuts Manila.
Russia’s vaccine has yet to clear local clinical trials. Despite this, the Kremlin has approved the vaccine — developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute — for civilian use.
According to Duterte, Russia’s experimental vaccine will be tested on a small group of Filipino volunteers.
“You will be given the vaccine and [we will look at] the reaction of your body if it will accept it or not … Me, when the virus comes, so that there will be no complaints [from critics], I will have it injected to me in [front of the] public,” the Duterte said, according to the report.
“I will be the first to be experimented on, that is OK by me … If it will work on me, it will work on everyone,” the president added.
Duterte — at 75 — is too old to test the vaccine. According to a report by Russia’s state-controlled Sputnik news agency, “[p]eople aged between 18 and 60 … are eligible for vaccination with the drug.”
In a State of the Nation Address last month, Duterte said that he had asked Chinese leader Xi Jinping (whom he has repeatedly praised as a “genuine friend” and “trusted partner”) to supply a coronavirus vaccine to the Philippines as soon as one becomes available.
The Philippines has the highest coronavirus caseload in Southeast Asia, with 139,538 infections and 2,312 deaths at press time on Tuesday.