MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on 11 August 2020, that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move Moscow likened to its success in the Cold War-era space race.
The vaccine, which will be called “Sputnik V” in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, has however not yet completed its final trials. Moscow’s decision to grant approval before then has raised concerns among some experts. Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful and some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety. Putin and other officials have said it is completely safe. The president said one of his daughters had taken it as a volunteer and felt good afterwards.
“I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the necessary checks,” Putin told a government meeting. The Russian business conglomerate Sistema has said it expects to put the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, into mass production by the end of the year. Government officials have said it will be administered to medical personnel, and then to teachers, on a voluntary basis at the end of this month or in early September. Mass roll-out in Russia is expected to start in October.
The vaccine is administered in two doses and consists of two serotypes of a human adenovirus, each carrying an S-antigen of the new coronavirus, which enter human cells and produce an immune response.
The platform used for the vaccine was developed by Russian scientists over two decades and had formed the basis for several vaccines in the past, including those against Ebola. Authorities hope it will allow the Russian economy, which has been battered by fallout from the virus, to return to full capacity. Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, said Russia had already received foreign requests for 1 billion doses. He said the vaccine also expected to be produced in Brazil. Dmitriev said clinical trials were expected to start soon in the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is willing to participate personally.
PHASE III TRIAL
The approval by the health ministry comes before the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial. Such trials, which require a certain proportion of participants to catch the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.
The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO), a trade body representing the world’s top drugmakers in Russia, this week urged the ministry to postpone approval until that final trial had been successfully completed. In a letter to the ministry, it said there were high risks associated with registering a drug before that happened. “It is during this phase that the main evidence of a vaccine’s efficacy is collected, as well as information on adverse reactions that could appear in certain groups of patients: people with weakened immunity, people with concomitant diseases and so forth,” it said.
Some international experts have also questioned the speed at which Russia approved its vaccine. “Normally you need a large number of people to be tested before you approve a vaccine,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, Germany, currently testing CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials.
“In that respect, I think it’s reckless to do that (approve it) if lots of people haven’t already been tested.” U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, asked about Russia’s announcement, said safety was paramount and late-stage trials were key. He said the United States was on track for an effective vaccine by the end of the year, with six candidates under development. “The point is not to be first with a vaccine. The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective,” Azar said on ABC News’ “Good Morning America” programme.
“We hope it’s true, but as is so often the case with Russia: trust but verify,” White House Council of Economic Advisers Acting Chairman Tyler Goodspeed said on Fox Business Network, referencing a Russian proverb cited by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan in negotiations with the Kremlin. More than 100 possible COVID-19 vaccines are being developed around the world. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.
4 August 2020 – Russia has signed deals to supply South Africa and seven Latin American countries with an anti-viral drug Russian authorities have approved to treat COVID-19, its sovereign wealth fund said on 10 August 2020. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said that at least 150,000 packs of the drug, known as Avifavir, would be sent to Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The drug will also be supplied to South Africa, RDIF said in a statement.
Technology to make the drug would be transferred to Bolivia’s Sigma Corp S.R.L. for it to be produced locally, RDIF said. The Russian health ministry gave its approval for the drug’s use under a special accelerated process in May.
Russia’s homegrown Covid-19 vaccine will create immunity for more than two years, according to the director of Moscow’s Gamalei Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which developed the drug with the Ministry of Defense. Alexander Ginzburg, the research center’s director, explained that the vaccine will be administered to humans twice – including a so-called secondary ‘booster’ injection. According to the scientist, the effectiveness of this method was proven by the center’s work in Guinea, where they conducted vaccinations against Ebola.
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