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Russia Covid-19 vaccine: World leaders, health officials have mixed response

Russia Covid-19 vaccine: Health officials and world leaders have criticised Russia for releasing the vaccine in haste, by rushing through the first two phases of clinical trials.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 12, 2020 8:35:02 pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement Tuesday – on what Kremlin claims is the world’s first vaccine for the novel coronavirus – was met with a mixed response from leaders and health authorities across the globe.

The vaccine, dubbed ‘Sputnik V’, was granted regulatory approval by Russia’s health ministry even before it cleared a vital last-stage of human trials to establish its safety and efficiency. Health officials and world leaders have criticised Russia for releasing the vaccine in haste, by rushing through the first two phases of clinical trials.

Responding to Putin’s claim, a spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that “rigorous review” and assessment of the vaccine was needed before the global health body could recommend the use of the Russian vaccine, AFP reported.

Covid-19 vaccine tracker, August 12: When will the Russian vaccine be available?

“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said during an online press briefing. “Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data.”

Here are some responses to the Russian vaccine from around the world

‘Skeptical about what’s going on in Russia,’ says German Health Minister

Russia Covid-19 vaccine: German Health Minister Jens Spahn briefs the media about the developing of the coronavirus crisis test strategy in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that he was skeptical about the vaccine that has been developed in Russia. Spahn said that the vaccine had not been sufficiently tested as yet and administering it on millions of people could be dangerous, Reuters reported.

“It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I’m very sceptical about what’s going on in Russia,” he told a German radio broadcaster.

Explained: Why Russian vaccine is a long way from being available in India, if at all

“I would be pleased if we had an initial, good vaccine but based on everything we know – and that’s the fundamental problem, namely that the Russians aren’t telling us much – this has not been sufficiently tested,” he added.

Philippines President offers to be injected with Russian vaccine

The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has volunteered to be injected with the Russian vaccine. (File)

Soon after Putin’s announcement, The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said his country was ready to work with Russia on vaccine trials. He also volunteered to be injected with the Russian vaccine in order to alleviate fears, Al Jazeera reported.

“I will tell President (Vladimir) Putin that I have huge trust in your studies in combating COVID and I believe that the vaccine that you have produced is really good for humanity,” Duterte said in a public address televised across the country. “I can be the first they can experiment on,” he added.

I will be 1st to take vaccine once it is approved: Serbian President

In this photo taken on Thursday, June 18, 2020, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during a joint press conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic too praised Russia for developing the coronavirus vaccine before November, adding that he would be happy to be the first person to take the vaccine as long as Serbian specialists approve its use, Russian News Agency TASS reported.

“I will be the first to take the vaccine when Serbian specialists say it’s good. I am happy if Russians created a vaccine that was expected before November,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Our specialists must just confirm to us that it is safe and reliable. It is important that the vaccine appears as soon as possible because it will save our economy.”

Top US expert Fauci ‘seriously doubts’ safety of Russian vaccine

Fauci doesn’t weigh ‘Whole National Interest,’ virus task force member says

The United States’ top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has said that he “seriously doubts” that the Russian Sputnik V vaccine has been proven safe and effective. In an interview with National Geographic, he said that he was yet to hear evidence that the vaccine was truly ready.

“Having a vaccine…and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” Fauci said. Speaking about the US’ efforts towards developing a vaccine, he added, “If we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people, or giving them something that doesn’t work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that’s not the way it works.”

Read: Russia’s race for Covid-19 vaccine raises concerns in the West

Russian pharma body calls vaccine Pandora’s Box

In a letter addressed to Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, the Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO) in Russia said that the potential mass use of the vaccine before clinical trials are completed could put people at risk.

“Why are all corporations following the rules, but Russian ones aren’t? The rules for conducting clinical trials are written in blood. They can’t be violated,” ACTO Executive Director Svetlana Zavidova told Bloomberg. “This is a Pandora’s Box and we don’t know what will happen to people injected with an unproven vaccine.”

First need to check safety, says Japan Health Minister

Japan will exercise caution while deciding whether to import the Covid-19 vaccine developed in Russia, health minister Katsunobu Kato said on Wednesday. According to Kato, the country would first need to establish the safety and efficiency of the vaccine, Japanese news outlet Nippon reported.

“It’s not like we’ll approve (the vaccine) immediately,” he told reporters. “We’re striving to carry out vaccinations as widely and promptly as possible, but we are also aiming to fully check safety.”

Israel to examine Russian vaccine

Israel is closely following reports about the vaccine developed in Russia and will enter negotiations to buy it if its safety and efficiency is proven, Israel Health Minister Yuli Edelstein
said, according to a Reuters report.

“If we are convinced it is a serious product, we will also try to enter negotiations. But I don’t want to delude anyone. The ministry’s professional staff is working on this all the time. The vaccine will not come tomorrow,” he said.

Kazakhstan not purchasing Russian vaccine until proven

Kazakhstan has not entered any negotiations with Russia to purchase the ‘Sputnik V’ vaccine, the official representative of the Kazakh Ministry of Health Bagdat Kodzhakhmetov has confirmed, according to a report by the Interfax Kazakhstan news agency.

“I cannot say anything about the Russian vaccine, but experts at the Kazakh Health Ministry are confident that there is no drug in the form of a vaccine that has been developed against coronavirus anywhere in the world,” Kodzhakhmetov said. “If Kazakhstan intends to buy a vaccine from other countries, it will be an internationally certified drug only.”

Global health agency urges vaccine safety trials

The Pan American Health Organization has expressed reservations over reports that institutions in the region were negotiating to manufacture and distribute a new COVID-19 vaccine announced by Russia that has yet to go through standard, extensive safety and efficacy trials.

The organisation’s deputy director, Jarbas Barbosa, said in an online news conference Tuesday from Washington that any vaccine should be carefully evaluated to ensure the product is safe and effective.

In Brazil, Parana state’s government said it is negotiating with the Russian Embassy to participate in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, and will be holding a technical meeting Wednesday with Russia’s ambassador.

Nicaragua earlier announced plans to produce a Russian vaccine and on Monday, Vice President Rosario Murillo, wife of President Daniel Ortega, again said the country was in contact with Russian institutions to produce and even export a COVID-19 vaccine.

Barbosa said the vaccine has not yet gone through all the steps needed so that it could be recommended by the World Health Organization or the Pan American Health Organization. He said global health officials were talking with Russian officials to review their data and clinical trials. (AP)

Scientists sceptical about Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine, cite lack of evidence for efficacy

The announcement should be taken “with a pinch of salt”, said Indian immunologist Vineeta Bal. “Unless some data are out in the open for people to see, including clinical trial phases and numbers, it is hard to believe that vaccine efficacy studies are successfully conducted between June 2020 and August 2020,” Bal, an immunologist from the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research in Pune, told PTI.

“Are they talking about controlled human challenge studies? If yes, that evidence is also useful to examine protective efficacy,” she noted.

Florian Krammer, a professor at the US-based Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, questioned the safety of the vaccine. “Not sure what Russia is up to, but I certainly would not take a vaccine that hasn’t been tested in phase 3. Nobody knows if it’s safe or if it works. They are putting HCWs (health care workers) and their population at risk,” Krammer said on Twitter.

For Russia, delivering a vaccine first is a matter of national prestige as it tries to assert the image of the country as a global power capable of competing with the US and China. The notion of being “the first in the world” dominated state news coverage of the effort, with government officials praising reports of the first-step testing, reported AP.

In April, President Vladimir Putin ordered state officials to shorten the time of clinical trials for a variety of drugs, including potential coronavirus vaccines.

According to Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations, the order set “an unattainable bar” for scientists who, as a result, “joined in on the mad race, hoping to please those at power.”

(With inputs from AFP, AP, Bloomberg, agencies)

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