Russia gears up for mass vaccination against coronavirus despite international skepticism

By | August 3, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the situation with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, including the development of vaccines, via a teleconference call at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on April 7, 2020.

Alexey Druzhinin | Sputnik | AFP via Getty Images

Russia is preparing to start a mass vaccination campaign against the coronavirus in October, the country’s government has claimed.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine candidate from the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute were complete, Russian state news agency RIA reported Saturday. Moscow has claimed the test results showed an immune response in all subjects, with no side effects or complications.

The laboratory behind the vaccine is now seeking regulatory approval for the drug, Murashko said according to RIA, and that this would be required before it could be used. Doctors and teachers would be the first to be vaccinated, he said, while mass vaccinations are planned for October.

Meanwhile, Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov told Russia’s TASS news agency Monday that the country was expecting to manufacture several million doses of Covid-19 vaccines each month by the start of 2021.

This acceleration of Russia’s vaccine development could mean the country becomes the first in the world to inoculate people against the virus, a huge milestone in combatting a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 689,000 people worldwide.

“It’s a Sputnik moment for many people who didn’t expect Russia to be the first,” Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, told Abu Dhabi newspaper The National last week. RDIF has been involved in funding the country’s vaccine research.

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International skepticism

However, there has been much international skepticism surrounding Russia’s vaccination efforts. White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, for instance, has cast doubt on the approaches to testing in both Russia and China.

“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone,” Dr. Fauci said in a congressional hearing on the coronavirus crisis on Friday.

“I do not believe that there will be vaccines, so far ahead of us, that we will have to depend on other countries to get us vaccines.”

And Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported Saturday that London would likely reject Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine due to doubts over the trial process. Russia has released no scientific data as to the safety and effectiveness of its vaccine.

Last month, Russia was accused by officials in the U.S., Canada and Britain of trying to hack and steal coronavirus vaccine data. China has also been accused by Washington of hacking into the computer systems of firms working on a Covid-19 vaccine. For its part, the Kremlin has rejected the allegations, claiming they were not backed by proper evidence.

Russia has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus infection in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with over 854,000 people having tested positive in the country. More than 14,000 have died from Covid-19, while around 649,000 have recovered after contracting the disease.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 26 candidate vaccines in clinical trials around the world, including the one from Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.

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Last month, a human trial of a vaccine candidate conducted by Oxford University and AstraZeneca indicated it was safe and produced a strong immune response, according to The Lancet medical journal.

There has also been promising data from vaccine candidates being developed by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna, as well as American drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech.

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