COVID-19: Russia becomes first country to roll out vaccine; here’s why it is facing tough questions

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Updated: Aug 11, 2020 6:44 PM

According to news agency Reuters, a shot of the vaccine was also administered to Putin’s daughter.

Sputnik V is based on the DNA of an adenovirus like SARS-CoV-2.Sputnik V is based on the DNA of an adenovirus like SARS-CoV-2.

Russia’s Coronavirus vaccine: Russia rolls out COVID-19 vaccine! Russia on Tuesday became the first country to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic for civilian use, nearly nine months after the disease caused a global outbreak. The development was announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said that this vaccine, named Sputnik V after the Soviet satellite, was an important step for the entire world. While announcing the development, the president said that the vaccine was quite effective and it induced a stable immune response against the novel coronavirus.

According to news agency Reuters, a shot of the vaccine was also administered to Putin’s daughter.

However, a report by the IE states that the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine is being looked at skeptically all over the world. The report stated that this was because the vaccine was being approved for use on civilians even before its clinical trials were completed. Global health agency, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had last week cautioned Russia against rushing its vaccine, which has been developed at the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute jointly with the country’s defence ministry.

Meanwhile, the report stated, public health expert in the US Anthony Fauci also raised doubts about the vaccines that have been produced in Russia and China while he was testifying before a committee of US lawmakers.

Russia COVID-19 vaccine: How will Sputnik V work?

Sputnik V is based on the DNA of an adenovirus like SARS-CoV-2, the report stated, adding that the adenovirus is a common cold virus. The vaccine would trigger an immune response in the person by using a weakened virus to deliver small parts of a pathogen. The director of the institute informed a Russia-based news agency, Sputnik News, that the particles of the coronavirus used in the vaccine could not harm the body of the person since they could not multiply, the report said.

Sputnik V: Trial results

The report stated that as of now, Russia has only made the results of phase-I of the clinical trials public. The country claimed that the phase-I was successful and it led to the desired immune response. In the middle of July, another Russian news agency, TASS, had stated that according to the country’s defence ministry, no participant had reported of any side effects due to the vaccine.

The phase I of the trials had begun on June 17 and it was conducted on 76 volunteers, most of them from the military. The report stated that while half of the participants had been injected with the liquid form of the vaccine, the other half had been given a vaccine which came in the form of soluble powder.

The phase II trials had reportedly commenced on July 13, and on August 3, news reports from Russia stated that the institute had concluded the clinical trials. But it was not specified if only the second phase was completed, or all the three phases had reached their conclusion. Usually, phase II of the trials are conducted over a few months.

The report stated that earlier, it had been indicated by the country that the phase III of the vaccine would be conducted once it received regulatory approval. The phase III of the vaccine checks the effectiveness of the shots in real-life situations by testing it on tens of thousands of people.

When is the Russian vaccine likely to enter the market?

The IE report quoted AP as saying that Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova had said that the industrial manufacturing of the vaccine would begin in September. The Health Minister said that people who fall in the risk group, like medical workers, could get the vaccine this month, with a mass vaccination programme being launched in October.

The health minister stated that the first groups to be vaccinated would be teachers as well as doctors. The elite of the country had been given the experimental vaccine in April. So far, the report stated, the price of the vaccine has not been declared.

Concerns about Russian vaccine: What have experts said?

Experts have opined that the Russian government had cut corners and might have risked the citizens by producing this vaccine at the superfast speed, overtaking frontrunners in the vaccine race like Moderna, Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca, the report said. The main concern of the experts is that the human trials of the vaccine has been completed in under two months, even as it can span over a few years normally.

However, Russia has said that the superfast speed of the vaccine was possible because the vaccine candidate developed against the novel coronavirus was very similar to a vaccine for MERS, which is also caused by a different type of coronavirus. The MERS vaccine had been tested extensively, Russia had stated.

News agency AP quoted Georgetown University’s global public health law expert Lawrence Gostin as saying that he was worried that Russia had taken some short-cuts to make the vaccine, and as a result, the vaccine might not only be ineffective, but also unsafe.

Fauci also questioned the fast approach of Russia, stating that he was hoping the Chinese and the Russian vaccines were actually being tested before they were administered. He said that claiming to have the vaccine ready to distribute before it was tested would at the least be very problematic.

Are countries interested in producing the Russian vaccine?

The report stated that recently TASS quoted Russia’s Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov as saying that every month in 2020, the country would produce several thousands of the doses, and this would be increased to several million in 2021. Apart from this, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Rusiian Direct Investment Fund who had financially supported the project said that over 20 countries had expressed their interest in producing the vaccine developed by Russia. He had said that there was great interest from Brazil and India, with over five countries working actively with Russia to start the vaccine’s production.

However, reports had stated that Britain was not likely to use the Russian vaccine.

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