DETROIT – While the world anxiously awaits a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, the announcement that Russia has approved one is being met with skepticism.
Experts are concerned Russia has cut corners on safety and is launching the vaccine without sufficient testing.
Russia is just starting phase three human trials, so not much is known about the apparent vaccine. There are several other vaccines even farther along in the testing process, but Russia has essentially jumped ahead to be first to register its vaccine, notably without publishing its data.
“A vaccine against coronavirus has been registered for the first time in the world this morning,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. “I know that it works quite effectively. It forms a stable immunity.”
Putin called his announcement an important step for Russia and the world.
“I now it very well, as one of my daughters has been inoculated with the vaccine,” Putin said. “I think that this way she participated in the experiment.”
The vaccine is named “Sputnik V,” a nod to the first Soviet satellite launched.
It reportedly uses tow genetically modified strains of adenovirus. It’s an approach similar to that being used by researchers at Oxord and Astrazeneca.
Despite very limited testing in monkeys and people, Russia already has a rollout plan for the vaccine. Teachers and medical personnel will start receiving the vaccine this month, with mass production in September and mass distribution in October, officials said.
“So we’re the first to have registered,” Putin said. “I hope our foreign colleagues’ work will move as well, and a lot of products will appear on an international market that could be used.”
Scientists, including from the World Health Organization, are urging caution, saying only extensive testing can determine if a vaccine is effective and safe.
“From what little has been released on it thus far, it appears as though the vaccine has only been tested on a few dozen people, so we’re really at too early a stage to truly assess whether it’s going to be effective, whether it’s going to work or not,” said Dr. Michael Head, of the University of Southampton.
Russian officials said they have already received interest in the vaccine from more than 20 countries.
The vaccine doesn’t even come close to meeting approval standards required in the United States.
There’s considerable concern because not only could the vaccine pose a risk to those who receive it, but it could also reduce confidence in other coronavirus vaccines that are still being tested.