The mayor of Moscow invited residents on August 26 to join trials of a COVID-19 vaccine that Russia approved for use earlier this month in what officials described as a breakthrough on par with the Soviet Unions launch of the worlds first satellite in 1957.
The world’s first vaccine against the COVID-19 to receive a government go-ahead has caused unease among international medical experts, who called Russia’s fast-tracked approval and failure to share any data supporting claims of the vaccine’s efficacy a major breach of scientific protocol.
Scientists around the world say any widely-used vaccine should first be tested in advanced trials involving tens of thousands of people to prove it is safe and effective before being licensed.
In his invitation to the Russian capital’s residents, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin appeared to announce those kind of broad studies would be launched soon. He said the post-registration research will last six months and involve 40,000 people.
Sobyanin encouraged Moscow residents to sign up, arguing that the vaccine was based on longtime previous research and proven to be safe.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
We all were eager to see the creation of a vaccine, and now we have it, Sobyanin said. Now, Moscow residents have a unique chance to become the main participants in clinical research that will help defeat the COVID-19.
Scientists at the World Health Organization said last week that although they had begun discussions with Russia about its vaccine, they had not yet received any detailed data about it.
In announcing the vaccines approval on August 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of his two adult daughters already had been inoculated with it. He said the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and was shown to provide lasting immunity to the COVID-19, although Russian authorities have offered no proof to back up claims of safety or effectiveness.
Experts warn that using an untested vaccine that has not yet proven to be safe or effective could ultimately undermine the response to the pandemic and cause more distrust among people about whether or not to be vaccinated.
As of August 26, Russia had reported a total of over 970,000 confirmed virus cases and 16,683 deaths. Russian officials have said the vaccine would initially be made available to high-risk groups, including medical workers and teachers before it comes to broad use.
The vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow with assistance from Russias Defense Ministry uses a different virus — the common cold-causing adenovirus — thats been modified to carry genes for the spike protein that coats the COVID-19,as a way to prime the body to recognize if a real COVID-19 infection comes along.
That's a similar technology as vaccines being developed by Chinas CanSino Biologics and Britains Oxford University and AstraZeneca but unlike those companies, Russian scientists havent published any scientific information about how the vaccine has performed in animal tests or in early-stage human studies.
Putin said one of his daughters has received two doses, and had minor side effects such as slight fever, and was feeling well and has a high number of antibodies.
However, many international experts remained skeptical as the experimental shots so far have been tested on just a few dozen people and there's no published scientific evidence backing official claims of its efficiency.
The Russian Health Ministry said in a statement on August 25 that the vaccine is expected to provide immunity from the COVID-19 for up to two years, citing its experience with vaccines made with similar technology.
Becoming the first country in the world to approve a vaccine was a matter of national prestige for the Kremlin as it tries to assert the image of Russia as a global power. Putin repeatedly praised Russia's effective response to the outbreak in televised addresses to the nation, while some of Moscows top officials including the country's prime minister and Putins own spokesperson became infected.
Last month, the US, Britain and Canada accused Russia of using hackers to steal vaccine research from Western labs. Russia has denied involvement.