Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, announced on Tuesday that the country has an approved vaccine for coronavirus, claiming it as “world’s first”. But the concerns regarding its safety and many unanswered questions regarding its efficacy cast a shadow on vaccine. In an announcement on state TV Putin said, “A vaccine against coronavirus has been registered for the first time in the world this morning. I know that it works quite effectively, it form a stable immunity.” Putin further added to the safety of vaccine that his daughter has already got it and that “she feels well” post slightly high temperature.
The vaccine has been called Sputnik-V, a reference to the similar named world’s first satellite launched in 1957 by Soviet Union. It is developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute in collaboration with Russia’s Ministry of Defence. The vaccine is being questioned by health professionals and researchers across the countries due to non-transparency regarding the vaccine development and the fact that this crucial vaccine is yet to start its Phase 3 trials wherein it has to be administered to people as a human trials phase. The cutting of essential corners in vaccine development by Russia is rather worrying, pointing doubts on its safety and efficacy. Last week, WHO had cautioned Moscow against its dangerous rush to develop the vaccine .
The rush regarding vaccine development is being viewed less due too global push but more due to political pressure from Kremlin in an attempt to project Russia as a global scientific leader.
How does Sputnik V work?
Sputnik V is based on the genetic material DNA (deoxy ribonucleic acid) of SARS-CoV-2 type adenovirus or the common cold virus. The vaccine utilizes weakened virus and delivers the pathogen in small quantity to help stimulate an immune response in the body. Alexander Gintsburg, the director at Gamaleya National Research Centre said that the vaccine cannot harm body as pathogen cannot multiply.
What do we know about the trial results of vaccine?
Till now Russia has publicized only results of Phase I of clinical trials. In mid-July, Moscow claimed of successful results of phase I with no complaints and no side effects from any volunteer. Phase I that started on June 17 had 76 volunteers, majority of which were from military and the scientists working on vaccine research. Furthermore, phase II started on July 13. On August 3 media reported that the institute had completed clinical trials, but there was no clarity or information on completion or even beginning of phase III. Experts say that ideally phase II itself takes few months to complete. This only raises concerns and questions regarding ethical and legal completion of all trial phases before it can be administered to public.
Why are there concerns regarding the Russian vaccine?
The fact that Sputnik V went at such as fast speed with production and trials has raised many red flags. Furthermore, the front runners in vaccine development like Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer lie eclipsed with this rather “underdog” has experts doubting if the Russian government has cut essential corners to rush with vaccine development, thus putting citizens at risk.
Russia in its defense has said that the fast production of Covid-19 vaccine was possible due to candidate vaccine’s close resemblance to vaccine for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) disease, which is caused by another strain of coronavirus that has been tested extensively.