The Russian president announced on Tuesday that Russia has developed the “first” vaccine against the coronavirus, a claim that the WHO says has yet to be independently and scientifically verified.
The Russian announcement and ambition to put the vaccine into production as early as September comes even though the trials are not complete and their phase 3, with thousands of subjects, does not begin until Wednesday.
Calling the vaccine ” Sputnik V “(V for vaccine), Russia testifies to its ambition in the matter, in reference to the political-scientific victory of the putting into orbit of the satellite of the same name in the middle of the Cold War. “For the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus has been recorded”, welcomed Vladimir Putin, adding “that it gives lasting immunity” and that one of his daughters had been inoculated. .
The vaccine, which the Russian president had made a priority, was developed by the Nikolai Gamaleia Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, in collaboration with the Russian Ministry of Defense.
“More than a billion doses” have been pre-ordered by 20 foreign countries, said Kirill Dmitriev, head of the RDIF sovereign fund involved in the development of the vaccine, citing the “interest” of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia , Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil or even India.
According to RDIF, Russia is ready to produce 500 million doses per year in five countries and the start of industrial production is expected in September.
Phase 3 of the trials are set to take place in Russia and abroad, according to sovereign wealth fund RDIF, including the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
According to the authorities, Russian medical and teaching staff should nevertheless be vaccinated in August or September and its entry into circulation is scheduled for January 2021.
Still many checks to do
This vaccine is viral vector, that is, it uses as a carrier another virus that has been transformed and adapted to fight COVID-19. It uses adenovirus, a technology also chosen by the University of Oxford.
Since the start of research, the Gamaleïa Institute has however been accused of breaking with the usual protocols to speed up the scientific process. And so far, Russia has not published a detailed study to independently verify its results.
Shortly after the Kremlin’s statement, the World Health Organization (WHO) responded with a call for caution.
“We are in close contact with the Russians and discussions are continuing. The prequalification of any vaccine goes through rigorous procedures, “said Tarik Jasarevic, spokesperson for the WHO. “Prequalification includes the review and evaluation of all required safety and efficacy data collected in clinical trials,” he said, noting that the process would be the same for any vaccine candidate.
In Berlin, the German Ministry of Health did not bother with oratorical precautions and expressed doubts about the “quality, effectiveness and safety” of the vaccine. “There are no known data regarding the quality, efficacy and safety of the Russian vaccine,” said a spokeswoman for the ministry, recalling that within the European Union, “patient safety is the first priority ”.
University College London expert François Balloux was even more blunt, calling the Russian move “an irresponsible and reckless move.” “Mass vaccination with a poorly tested vaccine is unethical,” he added, warning that any problem with the vaccination campaign would be “disastrous” both in its effects on the health of those vaccinated and for adherence to vaccination among the general public.
Russia’s health ministry says its vaccine “builds long-lasting immunity”, estimating that it could last “two years.” Problem: The data on which these claims are based have not been published.
For the French virologist Marie-Paule Kieny, former deputy director general at the WHO, “this declaration is premature since it is not yet known whether this vaccine (or any other) will protect against COVID-19”, nor “which will be the duration of the immunity ”. “Indeed, the decline after the first immunizations in humans is only a few months or weeks,” she added.
“Let’s forget about politics”
Even before these criticisms, Mr. Dmitriev condemned “coordinated media attacks” on the Russian vaccine.
He claimed that “the safety and health of ordinary people” had been “held hostage by political differences”, due to the multiple Russian-Western disputes. “Let’s forget about politics and take advantage of this moment. […] We are not forcing this vaccine on anyone, ”he added.
Russia has been working for months, like many other countries, on several COVID-19 vaccine projects.