Covid-19 vaccine: Dubbed as “Sputnik V”, Russia’s health ministry has given regulatory approval for what it claims is the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, after less than two months of human testing, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday, reported Reuters. While addressing a government meeting today, Putin was quoted as saying by AP, “I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests.” He added: “The most important thing is to ensure full safety of using the vaccine and its efficiency.”
The move paves the way for mass inoculation even as the final stages of clinical trials to test safety and efficacy continue.
As per Reuters, President Putin emphasised that the vaccine underwent the necessary tests, adding that one of his two daughters has received a shot of the vaccine and is feeling well.
The speed at which Russia is moving to roll out its vaccine highlights its determination to win the global race for an effective product but has stirred concerns that it may be putting national prestige before science and safety. The country had earlier boasted that it will soon become the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine.
Reuters reported that Russian authorities have said that medical workers, teachers and other risk groups will be the first to be inoculated.
According to report by Bloomberg, Russia was planning to ‘register’ its novel Coronavirus vaccine by August 10-12. It was this fast-track approach that Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease specialist, questioned last week.
“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing a vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone, because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing I think is problematic at best,” Dr Fauci was quoted as saying by AP.
The superfast speed at which the Russian vaccine has been produced, eclipsing front runners like Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer, has led to experts flagging that the government has cut corners and may put citizens at risk. What has raised the hackles of experts is the fact that human trials for the vaccine, which takes several years in normal circumstances, have been completed in less than two months.
Questions about this vaccine candidate come after the U.S., Britain and Canada last month accused Russia of using hackers to steal vaccine research from Western labs.
Meanwhile, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told AP that it’s more important to have a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus than to be the first to produce a vaccine. Azar, on a visit to Taiwan, was asked by ABC on Tuesday what he thought of Russia’s announcement that it had become the first country to register a vaccine against the virus.
He says, “The point is not to be first with a vaccine. The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people and the people of the world.”
Delivering a vaccine first is a matter of national prestige for the Kremlin as it tries to assert the image of Russia as a global power capable of competing with the US and China.
In April this year, Putin had ordered state officials to shorten the time of clinical trials for a variety of drugs, including potential coronavirus vaccines, AP reported. As per Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations, the order, which AP had access to, set “an unattainable bar” for scientists who, as a result, “joined in on the mad race, hoping to please those at power.”
According to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, coronavirus has infected more than 20 million people worldwide.
(With inputs from Reuters, AP)