Russia's Sputnik V: Germany, India, US, even fellow Russians skeptical of COVID-19 vaccine
The director of AIIMS Delhi said 'If Russia’s vaccine is successful, then we will have to see critically whether it is safe and effective.'
As eight vaccine candidates entered the final phase of human testing in large populations, including ones produced by Moderna in the US, Oxford University and AstraZeneca in Britain, and multiple Chinese companies, Russia has already given approval to its first coronavirus vaccine.
The country is planning on producing several thousands of doses of vaccine this year with Russian firms aiming for a billion by the start of 2021. Russia has also planned a mass vaccination campaign in October, and some businessmen and politicians including Vladimir Putin's daughter have already received an inaugural dose of the vaccine, called Sputnik V.
Putin and others involved in the vaccine development have made multiple reassuring statements claiming that the vaccine works and it has been tested rigorously for safety and efficacy. However, not all countries are convinced.
"I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity," Putin said in an online press conference. "We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world."
Many countries have outright stated that they won't be using Russian vaccine, while others have put forth their doubts more subtly.
Here are some countries that have expressed scepticism of the new Russian vaccine.
According to AFP, Germany has raised doubts over the quality and safety of Russia's coronavirus vaccine, stressing that drug approval is granted in the European Union only after full clinical trials.
"Patient safety is of the highest priority," said a health ministry spokeswoman. "There is no known data on the quality, efficacy and safety of the Russian vaccine."
According to a report by ANI, Dr Randeep Guleria, Director of All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi said, "If Russia’s vaccine is successful, then we will have to see critically whether it is safe and effective. There should not be any side effects of the vaccine and it should provide good immunity and protection. India has the capacity for mass production of vaccine."
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said at a media briefing that a National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration will be meeting today, 12 August and the panel will talk about "all matters related to logistics of vaccines, ways to address issues of equity etc."
When asked if the government was planning for a tie-up with Russia for the vaccine developed by it, Bhushan said "This expert group will continue its engagement with all state governments and vaccine manufacturers in India."
The top US infectious disease specialist Dr Anthony Fauci had questioned the fast-track approach adopted by Russia, during his testimony to a panel of US lawmakers.
"Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing is problematic at the very least," Fauci said.
In a separate interview with National Geographic, Fauci said "I hope that the Russians have actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they've done that."
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, said that it is important to have transparent data on the vaccine that will prove it is safe and actually works to help protect the people from the disease.
"The point is not to be first with a vaccine," Azar said in an interview with ABC. "The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective for the American people and the people of the world.”
The Associated Press reported another American and White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway also expressed her scepticism about the testing process that is backing up Russia’s claim to the first COVID-19 vaccine.
"The US standards are so much more stringent," Conway said. "Our FDA in our country sets the standards and what I understand from the Russia announcement is this is nowhere near where we are."
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Britain 'would likely reject' the Russian's vaccine as they have 'strong reservations about the trial process'.
Britain would use Russia's (or China's) vaccines only if they trusted the data, the report said. It also depended on how "open the Russians or Chinese were about the vaccines’ development" and if they met all the internationally recognized protocols.
Russian experts, too, expressed reservations
As per a letter quoted by a Bloomberg report, Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO) asked the Russian Health Ministry to delay the vaccine’s registration until after Phase III trials were completed. With fewer than 100 people being tested, early registration of the vaccine could "expose end consumers to unnecessary danger."
"Why are all corporations following the rules, but Russian ones aren’t? The rules for conducting clinical trials are written in blood. They can’t be violated," Svetlana Zavidova, ACTO Executive Director said in a letter to Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.
"This is a Pandora’s Box and we don’t know what will happen to people injected with an unproven vaccine," Zavidova added.
However, even with some countries showing very little trust in the vaccine and many health experts, researchers and scientists speaking up against it, Russia claimed that around 20 countries have pre-ordered a billion doses of its vaccine.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and bankrolled the project, told TASS, “Our foreign partners express great interest in producing this vaccine in their countries. There is great interest from Brazil, from India, from many other countries that are very much looking forward to the Russian vaccine. More than five countries are now actively working with us to start producing the vaccine."
According to a report by the New York Times, the Gamaleya Institute has stated that Russia plans on manufacturing its vaccine in India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Cuba. Recently, the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted Russia's offer to conduct human trials in the country and has also said that he will be the first volunteer for the vaccine.
Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and Mexico have also reportedly said that they will conduct trials of the vaccine in their countries. According to an update by Al Jazeera, Brazil's Paraná state is in talks with Russia to produce its COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement was made by Joao Pedro Schonarth, the spokesperson of Paraná Technology Institute.
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a simplified approach for future vaccination efforts, allowing most adults and children to get a once-a-year shot to protect against the mutating virus
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