By: N. Elmôr
Russia has become the first nation to approve a Covid-19 vaccine. Nonetheless, this news has been accompanied by many concerns over the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.
The announcement was made by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, on national television. Putin said: “I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks.” The vaccine is being referred to as “Sputnik V”- a reference to the first satellite launched into orbit by the USSR during the cold war space race.
Russian health authorities have approved the vaccine. However, concerns originate from the fact that somehow it was proved to be safe before phase III clinical trials even started (these are the necessary trials to verify that the vaccine truly works and that it is safe for use). Robin Shattock who is working on a vaccine for Covid-19 at Imperial College London said that “Russia has granted a license based on phase I data: this would not be done anywhere else in the world”. However, the chief of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Kirill Dmitriev, claimed that phase III trials have been going on during August.
The vaccine is being developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, in Russia’s capital, Moscow. The head of the Institute, Alexander Gintsburg, affirmed that the vaccine is based on a well-researched scientific platform which “has been in development for 25 years” and it was used “at the end of 2014 […] to create drugs to fight the most rapidly changing viruses”. Gintsburg also said that this platform was used to develop vaccines against many other diseases, including Ebola and it was “highly assessed by the WHO [World Health Organization].”
The Russian Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko said in an interview in July that the vaccine has proven its effectiveness and its “safety is confirmed”. Murashko also told media that mass vaccination is set to begin in October. Initial batches will be designated for doctors and that the vaccine production will also be domestic-orientated to cover internal demands. However, the RDIF is already in the midst of negotiations for the production of the vaccine abroad.
Russia has a good track record for vaccine development, and if this vaccine proves to be effective, it could provide Russia with many advantages. Not only could it generate immense revenues for Russia but also boost its global image and allow its economy to recover faster than that of other nations. Nevertheless, if the vaccine does not live up to claims and the expectations it has established, Russia’s image, credibility and vaccine track record could be badly damaged.
Claims by the UK, the US and Canada have also been made accusing Russia of attempting to steal vaccine research, but Russian officials have denied these claims.