Russia’s Coronavirus Vaccine: Too Good to Be True?

International Concerns Raised Over the Safety “Sputnik V”

The race for a coronavirus vaccine has taken an unexpected turn this week. Ever since this race began, Oxford University of the UK seemed poised to make the first manufactured vaccine. However, the Russian state would drop a huge bombshell this week as it claimed that it has successfully manufactured and tested a working COVID-19 vaccine, which it dubbed “Sputnik V” an allusion to the famous Sputnik satellites manufactured by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The announcement has received mixed reactions, as some states, particularly those of the West, have expressed scepticism over the safety of the inoculation, citing the rushed process of human testing which only lasted two months. Moscow said on Wednesday that the first batch of the vaccine would be ready for some medics within two weeks and rejected safety concerns as "groundless". Meanwhile, other states have expressed interest in Sputnik V, and some have already gone into talks with Russia seeking to put in an order for dosages. 
 
RUSSIA’S RUSHED LAW
 
In April, the Russian government enacted a new law, which would shorten the testing time for a variety of drugs, including the COVID-19 vaccine. As a result of this new law, health authorities in Russia have been able to approve of this new vaccine despite the fact that it only underwent two months of human testing. Moreover, the new law also made it possible for new drugs to be approved without the need for a phase 3 trial. Final trials, normally carried out on thousands of participants, are considered essential in determining safety and
efficacy. Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful. It should be noted that although the new Russian law has eliminated the need for a last phase of testing, the vaccine is currently undergoing Phase 3 as more than 2,000 people across Russia, Latin America and the Middle East are currently trying out the vaccine. Speaking to CNN, Professor Keith Neal, an Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases from the University of Nottingham stated that although Russia has claimed victory in the race, current clinical trials state otherwise. “They’re not as far ahead of other vaccines”, he said while noting that the Russian vaccine, like the Moderna and Oxford vaccine is only just beginning Phase 3 testing. 
 
RUSSIA DENIES CLAIMS OF UNSAFETY
 
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Health Ministry gave its approval after the vaccine underwent the necessary tests. He said one of his two adult daughters had been inoculated. “We should be grateful to those who have taken this first step, which is very important for our country and the whole world,” he said.

No proof was offered and scientists in Russia warned that more testing would be necessary to establish it is safe and effective. Nonetheless, officials said vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month and mass vaccination may begin as early as October.
 
WHICH COUNTRIES ARE TAKING IN THE VACCINE?
 
So far, a number of countries around the world have welcomed the news from Moscow and some are already in talks to secure enough doses for their citizens.
 
Philippine scientists are set to meet representatives of the Russian research facility that developed the vaccine on this week, to discuss possible participation in clinical trials and access to its research data. Kazakhstan plans to send government officials to Moscow later this month to discuss possible deliveries.
 
The Brazilian state of Parana on Wednesday reached a deal with Russia to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that Moscow has touted as the first to market, the state's press office said, although details of the agreement
were not immediately available. Parana state had said on Tuesday it was in talks to produce the vaccine, although it was unclear if the state's research institute would get the necessary regulatory approvals from Brazil's federal government. 
 
Israel will examine Russia's COVID-19 vaccine and enter negotiations to buy it if it is found to be a "serious product", Israel's health minister said.
 
The World Health Organization and Russian health authorities are discussing the process for possible WHO prequalification, a WHO spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Prequalification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a U.N. briefing in Geneva, referring to clinical trials.
 
WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN IN RUSSIA?
 
Like the rest of the world, Russians have expressed mixed feeling over the vaccine. One Reuters report spoke to Russians on the streets of Moscow. In the report, some Russians said they would be too scared to try the vaccine, while others agreed with their government that scepticism expressed by foreign experts was driven by jealousy. "I don't trust Russian vaccines in general, I definitely won't get vaccinated," said Ekaterina Sabadash, 36, speaking outside Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre. Alexander, a photographer, was also wary. "Until it goes through (final) clinical trials and we get some confirmed results, I would be scared to get it done," he said. Others said they understood why Russia was in a hurry to get a new vaccine and trusted it, but doubted they would really have a say in whether to have it. "I'm a teacher and they'll recommend we get it," said Irina Fashchevskaya, a Moscow resident. "We'll be forced to do it." 
Mikhail Mechyov, a 42-year-old Moscow resident, said he saw jealousy behind Western warnings. "It's natural to be cautious, but they are aimed at belittling the achievement of our country," he said. "I think alot has been done and it's great there is a vaccine."