President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday announced that Russia has developed the world's first Covid-19 vaccine that works ‘effectively enough’ and provides ‘stable immunity’ against the disease for two years.
However, the vaccine hasn’t completed Phase III tests yet, where it is administered to thousands of people, a process seen as the only method of ensuring a vaccine is actually safe and effective.
This has raised global concerns that Moscow is cutting corners to score brownie points in the dash for a cure. Amid fears that safety could have been compromised, the World Health Organization urged Russia last week to follow international guidelines for producing a vaccine.
Putin said that one of his daughters had tested the vaccine on herself and had already developed antibodies. He added that her side-effects were no worse than a high temperature. Russia's business and political elite were given early access to experimental vaccines as long ago as April, it was claimed last month.
The vaccine has been named Sputnik-V. The name is a reference to the surprise 1957 launch of the world's first satellite by the erstwhile Soviet Union. Britain, the US and Canada claimed last month that Russia had tried to hack into Western vaccine research in its quest to win the race. Russia has suffered nearly 900,000 coronavirus cases, but the daily infection rate has been slowly falling for several months.
The Russian Health Minister said that clinical trials of the vaccine were over and medical workers and teachers will be the first to get the shot.
"We will begin the stage-by-stage civilian use of the vaccine. First and foremost, we would like to offer vaccination to those who come into contact with infected persons at work. These are medical workers. And also those who are responsible for children's health - teachers," the minister said.
Russia has received a request for the production of one billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from 20 states. Several Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian states have expressed an interest in purchasing the Russian vaccine. Several contracts have been finalised.
Western regulators have said repeatedly that they do not expect a vaccine to become widely available before the end of the year at the earliest. Regulatory approval in Russia, well ahead of that timeline, could become a symbol of national pride and provide a lift for Putin, whose popularity ratings have fallen under the weight of the pandemic and a faltering economy, reports New York Times.
Sceptics say while small trials can show whether a vaccine is likely to be safe, much larger tests are needed to show whether it will prevent the spread of the disease. In this context, one UK scientist warned that there was 'no data' on the Russian vaccine, adds the Daily Mail.
Philippine leader can be guinea pig
Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte has lauded Russia's efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine and is willing to participate in trials. '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 on television late on Monday. Duterte says Russia is ready to provide the vaccine to the Philippines, or team up with a local firm to mass produce it. To allay public fears, Duterte offered to be a guinea pig when the vaccine arrives and said: 'I can be the first they can experiment on.'