Russia First to Approve COVID-19 Vaccine, Others Not so Sure

    11 August 2020

    Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Tuesday that Russia has become the first country to approve a vaccine for COVID-19. But some scientists question whether its quick approval without testing a large group of people will lead to a safe vaccine.

    Speaking at a government meeting, Putin said that the vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, has completed the necessary tests and is safe.

    "I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks," said Putin. "We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world."

    The Russian leader noted that one of his two adult daughters has received two shots of the vaccine. "She has taken part in the experiment," Putin said.

    Kirill Dmitriev is head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. He likened the development to a "Sputnik moment." Sputnik 1 is the name of the world's first satellite. It was launched in 1957 when Russia was part of the Soviet Union.

    Dmitriev said the new COVID-19 vaccine will be named "Sputnik V." He said Russia had already received foreign requests for one billion doses. Russian state media also praised the scientists working on the vaccine and described the work as the envy of other nations.

    The Russian Health Ministry said in a statement that the vaccine is expected to provide immunity from the coronavirus for up to two years. Officials added that medical workers, teachers and individuals in other high-risk groups will be the first to receive the shots.

    A handout photo provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows samples of a vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, in Moscow, Russia August 6, 2020.
    A handout photo provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows samples of a vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, in Moscow, Russia August 6, 2020.

    Phase 3 trials

    The Russian announcement came less than two months after the start of human testing of the vaccine. And the vaccine has yet to complete Phase 3 trials – when a new drug is tested against the effectiveness of other treatments.

    Other COVID-19 vaccine candidates have been given to volunteers in Phase 3 trials in Britain and the United States. Those vaccines have been developed by the University of Oxford and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Each trial will last for several months and include up to 30,000 people.

    Alexander Gintsburg is head of the Gamaleya Institute. He said that the Russian vaccine program will start while Phase 3 trials continue. He told the Interfax agency that, at first, there will be only enough shots for some parts of the country.

    The Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO) represents the world's top drug makers in Russia. Earlier this week, it urged the health ministry to postpone approval until final testing is successfully completed.

    Some international experts have questioned the speed at which Russia approved its vaccine.

    Michael Head is a doctor and an expert in Global Health at the University of Southampton. He said, "It is unclear precisely what is actually happening with the Russian vaccine... At this point in time, there is no data on the Russian-led vaccine for the global health community to scrutinize."

    "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. "In that respect, I think it's reckless to do that (approve it) if lots of people haven't already been tested."

    Duncan Matthews is with Queen Mary University of London. He said news of a possible COVID-19 vaccine was to be welcomed, "but safety must be the priority."

    The World Health Organization says more than 100 possible vaccines are being developed to protect against COVID-19. But only six possible vaccines are currently in Phase 3 trials.

    Last month, the United States, Britain and Canada accused Russia of trying to steal Western research into coronavirus vaccines and treatments. In a joint statement, the three governments identified the Russian group Cozy Bear as responsible for the attacks.

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Hai Do wrote this story for Learning English with information from the Associated Press, Reuters, WHO and Science Media Center. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    immunity - n. the power to keep yourself from being affected by a disease

    check - n. the process of examining something to see if there is anything wrong

    grateful - adj. showing thanks

    dose - n. the amount of medicine

    the envy of - phrase, something that causes someone to want it

    scrutinize - v. to examine carefully and critically

    reckless - adj. not showing proper concern about the possible bad results of your actions

    priority - n. something that is more important than other things and need to be dealt with first