Filipino bishops warn govt over Russian vaccine deal

Prelates call for transparent and ethical testing, procurement and distribution of Covid vaccines

Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila

Updated: October 19, 2020 05:28 AM GMT

Catholic faithful wearing face shields have their body temperature checked prior to attending a mass at the usually packed Baclaran church in Paranaque City, suburban Manila. Bishops in the Philippines have called for ethical guidelines to be followed in the testing, procurement and distribution of coronavirus vaccines. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has urged government and health authorities to follow ethical guidelines on the testing, procurement and distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

Science and medical interventions must adhere to moral principles respecting the dignity of the human person, according to the bishops' Commissions on Seminaries and Bioethics.

Like all other medical interventions, they [Covid vaccines] have to be developed and used according to sound moral and scientific principles that affirm the dignity of the human person, especially those who are poor and vulnerable, the bishops said in a statement.

The statement came after the Philippine agreed to participate in Russia's coronavirus vaccine trials.

Russia wants to conduct vaccine tests in the Philippines as part of a move to make the country the Southeast Asian production hub for anti Covid-19 drugs.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters the arrangement stemmed from a bilateral deal that included joint clinical trials and vaccine supply.

So far it's Russia that has offered to conduct clinical tests of Covid-19 vaccines in the Philippines. We need to participate if we think we need to find the cure for this deadly virus, he told reporters.

The bishops said that although clinical research is morally good, clinical trials must adhere to the highest ethical standards and best scientific practices.

Full transparency is critical at every step of the development and distribution of a candidate vaccine to ensure the safety and effectiveness of every approved vaccine in an immunization campaign. This will help bolster public confidence in the initiatives of medical and governmental authorities, the bishops' statement said.

The CBCP also proposed the setting up of an ethics board to evaluate the test results and to make them available to the public.

The data should be made publicly available so that other scientists and medical professionals can confirm the safety and efficacy of the candidate vaccine, the bishops added.

Government and health authorities should also practice full disclosure by communicating all perceived side effects to all participants so they can give their informed consent, they said.

Financial compensation for participation in the clinical trials should not be excessive to avoid the risk of exploiting the poor who would not be free to turn down the payment.

The CBCP advised the government and health authorities to buy vaccines that were as cheap as possible to encourage global forums to extend corporate social responsibility programs.

Finally, we urge our government to provide the Covid-19 vaccine to everyone without cost to the individual.  Otherwise, it will not be available to the poor. Pope Francis has said, 'It would be sad if the rich are given priority for the Covid-19 vaccine,' they said.

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