Russia has become the world’s first country to approve a vaccine against COVID-19. The international response, however, has been consistently negative. Criticisms from the international community claim that approval may have been granted too prematurely while meaningful test results are missing.
President Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s advancements in the global race for vaccine supremacy on Tuesday. The vaccine developed by the Moscow Gamaleja Institute received approval from the Ministry of Health, Putin announced, further noting that one of his two daughters had already been vaccinated. He stated that he hoped that mass production could begin soon.
The vaccine was approved after less than two months of testing. Putin stressed, however, that all the necessary tests had been conducted, nonetheless. According to health authorities, medical staff, teachers, and other risk groups in Russia should be vaccinated first.
Critics: Vaccine is Not up to International Standards
So far, experts had assumed that a vaccine would likely not be ready before the end of this year or the beginning of 2021. One of the reasons for this is that vaccines need to progress through various stages of testing. According to reports, the third and decisive stage of testing was not carried out in Russia.
Besides, the vaccine has so far only been tested on an infinitesimal group of individuals, which is contrary to international criteria. General suspicion regarding the vaccine’s safety, even after Russia had first announced progress in its research, thus seems warranted.
Little is known about the vaccine “Gam-COVID-Vac Lyo” at this stage. It is a so-called vector vaccine, in which harmless viruses serve as carriers for characteristic genome segments of the pathogen Sars-CoV-2. The immune system of the vaccinated person should react to this genetic material and develop an appropriate immune response.
However, many scientists in Russia as well as abroad have expressed criticism of registering a new agent before the aforementioned third test phase has been completed. The latter usually takes several months and involves several thousand test subjects.
However, in Russia, the experimental corona vaccine was first tested on a few dozen volunteers less than two months ago, and no scientific results have yet been published. Some observers suspect that the reason for the ambitious timetable is that Moscow hopes for a propaganda success.
Vitali Swerjew from the Russian Metschnikof Institute explained, for example, that developing the vaccine was the smallest problem. The real hurdle was that it is impossible to prove a vaccine’s effectiveness and potential danger. Nor can be said how long the immunity will last, without sufficient research. Sverjew was thus concerned that Russia has been neglecting its duty of care in the process.
The World Health Organization also emphasizes that potential vaccines always have to go through all test phases before they come onto the market in order to adhere to “established practices and guidelines”, said spokesman Christian Lindmeier. Anthony Fauci, the top expert on infectious diseases in the USA, has expressed his concerns over Russia’s advancements, also.
“Claims to have a vaccine that can be widely used before testing is problematic at best,” he said.
The Price for Russians Could be High
Already the previous week, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for Education, Health and Social Policy Tatyana Golikova announced that her country would approve a vaccine in August. Golikova had only limited the roadmap to successful clinical tests with around 1,600 subjects.
On Monday then, Health Minister Mikhail Muraschko announced that Gamaleja had completed the clinical trials with the vaccine. Russia seeks to start the first mass vaccination campaign against the coronavirus as early as October and officially win the international race.
However, the price that the Russian population could have to pay for what may end up being nothing more than a temporary propaganda success could be exceedingly high.