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Vladimir Putin branded ‘reckless and foolish’ over ‘improperly tested’ vaccine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and pictures of Russian coronavirus vaccine in development
Russian President Vladimir Putin says ‘all necessary tests’ have been passed (Picture: Getty Images)

Vladimir Putin has been slammed by the scientific community after announcing Russia had approved the world’s first coronavirus vaccine.

Experts have called the move ‘reckless and foolish’ as the jab is yet to pass clinical trials. But the Russian leader has insisted it offers ‘sustainable immunity’ and that his daughter has already been inoculated.

The country is preparing to start a mass vaccination campaign in October, but scientists have said this would be ‘unethical’ as an ‘improperly tested vaccine’ could have a ‘disastrous’ impact on the population.

No approval was granted by the World Health Organisation for the vaccine, named Sputnik V after the former Soviet space satellites. The treatment is yet to go through Phase III tests, which measure effectiveness.

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Russia’s health ministry said the vaccine is expected to provide up to two years of immunity. Putin says the jab has ‘passed all necessary tests’ but scientists warn no data has been made available for the international research community to scrutinise.

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Despite the concerns, Russia claims 20 countries have ordered a billion doses. Officials say Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to buy a million and that Brazil, India and Saudi Arabia have expressed an interest.

A scientist works inside a laboratory of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology during the production and laboratory testing of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia August 6, 2020.
Scientists around the world say no testing data has been made available to them (Picture: Reuters)

Addressing a government meeting today Putin said: ‘I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests. The most important thing is to ensure full safety of using the vaccine and its efficiency.’

He said one of his two adult daughters had ‘taken part in the experiment’, claiming she had a 38C temperature on the first day of the vaccine before dropping to 37C the following day.

Putin noted that she had a slight increase in temperature after the second injection, but that later fell as well. He said she is now said to be ‘feeling well’ and was described as having a ‘high number of antibodies’.

University College London biologist Professor Francois Balloux called the move ‘reckless and foolish’ and said ‘vaccination with an improperly tested vaccine is unethical’.

He added: ‘Any problem with the Russian vaccination campaign would be disastrous both through its negative effects on health, but also because it would further set back the acceptance of vaccines in the population.’

Global health researcher at the University of Southampton Michael Head said: ‘It is unclear precisely what is actually happening with the Russian vaccine.

‘It is vital that any vaccine roll-out has the confidence of the general public, and that there is good communication of the level of effectiveness and any likely side effects.

‘At this point in time, there is no data on the Russian-led vaccine for the global health community to scrutinise.’

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a cabinet meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Putin says that a coronavirus vaccine developed in the country has been registered for use and one of his daughters has already been inoculated.
Putin says one of his two daughters had ‘taken part in the experiment’ (Picture: AP)

‘There have been lessons learned from previous vaccine roll-outs, that were usurped by anti-vaccination activists and population health has greatly suffered.

‘Examples include the HPV vaccine in Denmark or Japan, where uptake plunged after anti-vaccine campaigns and irresponsible comments from some scientists.

‘Health promotion and clear explanations to the general public are the bare minimum in terms of communications here.’ 

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Epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham Professor Keith Neal said that although a small test sample can show if the vaccine is safe, a much larger trial is needed to prove it prevents infection.

A scientist works inside a laboratory of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology during the production and laboratory testing of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia August 6, 2020.
A scientist works at Moscow’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology (Picture: Reuters)

He added: ‘It is not possible to know if the Russian vaccine has been shown to be effective without submission of scientific papers for analysis and then there may be problems on data quality.’

Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London Professor Danny Altmann said that ‘the bar is necessarily set very high’ for approving vaccines.

He added: ‘The collateral damage from release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective would exacerbate our current problems insurmountably. I hope these criteria have been followed. We are all in this together.’

Drug research specialist at Warwick Business School Dr Ayfer Ali said fast approvals can mean potential adverse side effects could be missed.

He added: ‘Another issue is missing potential antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) which is a phenomenon where a vaccine is not protective enough to prevent the disease but instead allows the virus to enter the body more easily and worsen the disease the vaccine is supposed to protect against.’

Dr Ali said this had already been observed in a animal models of non-Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines. He added: ‘Russia is essentially conducting a large population level experiment.’

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: ‘We are in close contact with Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO prequalification of the vaccine, but again prequalification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data.’

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Fears have been raised over Putin putting the political prestige Russia would gain for developing the world’s first coronavirus vaccine over the world’s safety.

It comes after British, American and Canadian intelligence agencies claimed Russian hackers launched cyber attacks on western labs to steal coronavirus research data.

They said they were confident the Kremlin had sanctioned the raids by the APT29 hacking group, also known as the ‘Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’.

Responding to Putin’s announcement, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told reporters that the agency was discussing the next steps with Russian authorities.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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