Russia claims it has the first COVID-19 vaccines, but experts are doubtful. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday the country has become the first in the world to grant regulatory approval for a coronavirus vaccine.
Russia’s claim of a vaccine has drawn deep scepticism from experts, who said the country appears to be approving the drug based only on early and insufficient data.
The announcement of the new vaccine, dubbed Sputnik-V, has been met with initial scepticism, as it has yet to complete Phase III trials in which large numbers of people are given doses to determine whether it is safe and effective in a general population.
Reactions from experts — even from inside Russia — have ranged from cautious to sceptical, with some suggesting that the high-level haste in pushing an as-yet unproven vaccine may have more to do with politics than science.
On Monday, the Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO) asked the Health Ministry to delay the vaccine’s registration until after Phase III trials were completed.
The researchers said fewer than 100 people had been tested — and that the early registration of the vaccine could expose end consumers to unnecessary danger.
WHO officials Concerns:
The World Health Organization has urged that all vaccine candidates go through full stages of testing before being rolled out, A spokesman for the World Health Organization said the United Nations agency was “in close contact with the Russian health authorities” about possibly pre-qualifying the vaccine under a program designed to facilitate access to medicines deemed by the WHO to have met “unified standards of quality, safety and efficacy.”
Speaking to reporters at an online news conference from Geneva, Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization noted that “pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data.”
The vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow with assistance from Russia’s Defense Ministry uses a different virus — the common cold-causing adenovirus — that’s been modified to carry genes for the “spike” protein that coats the coronavirus, as a way to prime the body to recognize if a real COVID-19 infection comes along.
That’s a similar technology as vaccines being developed by China’s CanSino Biologics and Britain’s Oxford University and AstraZeneca — but unlike those companies, Russian scientists haven’t published any scientific information about how the vaccine has performed in animal tests or in early-stage human studies.
However, scientists around the world have been cautioning that even if vaccine candidates are proven to work, it will take even more time to tell how long the protection will last.
“The collateral damage from the release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective would exacerbate our current problems insurmountably,” Imperial College London immunology professor Danny Altmann said in a statement Tuesday.
It’s not Russia’s first controversial vaccine. Putin has bragged that Russian scientists delivered an Ebola vaccine that “proved to be the most effective in the world” and “made a real contribution to fighting the Ebola fever in Africa.” However, there is little evidence either of the two Ebola vaccines approved in Russia was widely used in Africa. As of 2019, both of those vaccines were listed by the WHO as “candidate vaccines.”
Written by Kumar Saurav, He is Journalism graduate from Indian Institute of Mass Communication New Delhi.