Russia Says It Will Start Mass-Producing Its Coronavirus Vaccine Next Month — as Scientists Say Developers Rushed Through Tests and Injected Themselves to Shorten Human Trials

 In COVID-19, CIS, Russia, P5
  • Russia says it will start mass pro­duc­ing its lead­ing coro­n­avirus vac­cine pro­to­type in September.
  • The safety and effi­ca­cy of this vac­cine has been heav­i­ly doubt­ed, how­ev­er, with its devel­op­ers accused of rush­ing through safety trials to please the Kremlin, which is keen to win the global vac­cine race.
  • The researchers said they tri­aled the vac­cine on them­selves to speed through human trials. A lead­ing Russian sci­en­tif­ic asso­ci­a­tion called it a “crude vio­la­tion of the very foun­da­tions of clin­i­cal research.”
  • The Kremlin has por­trayed Russia as a pan­dem­ic suc­cess story, despite accu­sa­tions of fab­ri­cat­ed data and a cover-up. President Vladimir Putin has also mocked the US response to its out­break.
  • A top Russian offi­cial likened the vac­cine race to the Space Race during the Cold War, telling CNN: “Americans were sur­prised when they heard Sputnik’s beep­ing. It’s the same with this vac­cine. Russia will have got there first.”
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Russia says it will start mass-pro­duc­ing its coro­n­avirus vac­cine next month, despite wide­spread reports that sci­en­tists rushed through tests and inject­ed them­selves with the pro­to­type to speed up the process.

More than 100 vaccines are being devel­oped around the world, but only four — from Moderna, AstraZeneca, SinoVac, and Pfizer — have entered phase‑3 mass human trials, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Now Russia claims that a Russian vac­cine will be first to hit the market and admin­is­tered to a pop­u­la­tion. The WHO cur­rent­ly rec­og­nizes two Russian vac­cine trials, but says they are both still in phase 2 trials.

“We are very much count­ing on start­ing mass pro­duc­tion in September,” Russian trade min­is­ter Denis Manturov told the state-run TASS news agency on Monday, refer­ring to a vac­cine devel­oped by the Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Russia appears to see the global race for a coro­n­avirus vac­cine as a com­pe­ti­tion with the US, with the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund — which finances domestic vaccine projects — liken­ing it to the Space Race between the US and Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“Americans were sur­prised when they heard Sputnik’s beep­ing. It’s the same with this vac­cine. Russia will have got there first,” Kirill Dmitriev told CNN.

Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial participant

A nurse injects a volunteer during human trials for a vaccine developed by National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc in Binghamton, New York, on July 27, 2020.
AP Photo/Hans Pennink

However, the trial vac­cine has drawn heavy skep­ti­cism from med­ical pro­fes­sion­als both inside and out­side Russia.

Scientists work­ing on the Gamaleya vac­cine were crit­i­cized in late May after report­ing that they had taken the highly unusual step of injecting themselves with the trial vaccine in an appar­ent attempt to speed up human trials.

The cen­ter’s direc­tor, Alexander Gintsburg, told Russian state news agency Interfax on May 22 that the vac­cine appeared to work and that “every­one is safe and sound and happy.”

He also said that the researchers, includ­ing him­self, had inject­ed them­selves with the pro­to­type, not to use as a test, but “to pro­tect them­selves in order to be able to work on this devel­op­ment amid the pan­dem­ic.”

But Russia’s Association of Clinical Research Organizations said the step was a “crude vio­la­tion of the very foun­da­tions of clin­i­cal research, Russian law, and uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed inter­na­tion­al reg­u­la­tions,” according to the Associated Press (AP).

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 7, 2020: Russia's President Vladimir Putin meets with Maxim Akimov, Chairman of the Management Board of Russian Post, at the Moscow Kremlin. Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS (Photo by Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on July 27, 2020.
Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images

The asso­ci­a­tion added that Gamaleya was rush­ing through “the crazy race” to find a vac­cine “hoping to please those in power,” the AP report­ed.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the direc­tor of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also expressed con­cern about the pace of Russia’s projects.

“I do hope that the … Russians are actu­al­ly test­ing the vac­cine before they are admin­is­ter­ing the vac­cine to anyone,” Fauci said in a con­gres­sion­al meet­ing last week, according to The New York Times.

Inside Russia, state-run media and the Kremlin are ped­dling the nar­ra­tive that Russia is pan­dem­ic suc­cess story, despite reports it is manipulating or covering up case statistics, and deny­ing med­ical staff sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). President Vladimir Putin has also mocked the US response to the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic.

Despite Russia’s pur­port­ed suc­cess at devel­op­ing a vac­cine, the US, UK, and Canada last month accused Russia of being behind attempts to hack their top coro­n­avirus research cen­ters “to steal valu­able intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty.”

vaccine

REUTERS/James Akena

One other vac­cine in Russia, which is mon­i­tored by the WHO, is also near­ing approval, accord­ing to the gov­ern­ment. 

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said this week that the Vektor State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology will start mass pro­duc­ing its vac­cine in November.

In late May, Russian health min­is­ter Mikhail Murashko had said the Vektor vac­cine could be ready to go by the end of July.

But experts have poured cold water on that claim since.

“Of course, you can create a pro­to­type vac­cine during such a brief period of time,” Vitaly Zverev, head of the mol­e­c­u­lar tech­nol­o­gy depart­ment at the Mechnikov Research Institute of Vaccines in Moscow, told the Russian-language network Current Time.

“But it is impos­si­ble to have it prop­er­ly tested. Hence, it would be pre­ma­ture to say that a mass vac­ci­na­tion will be launched in July.”

“This cannot be tested in a few weeks or even months. It is impos­si­ble to com­plete this colos­sal amount of work in four months. Some things simply cannot be sped up.”

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