President Vladimir Putin said on August 11 that Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move hailed by Moscow as evidence of its scientific prowess.
The development paves the way for the mass inoculation of the Russian population, even as the final stage of clinical trials to test safety and efficacy continue.
The speed at which Russia is moving to roll out its vaccine highlights its determination to win the global race for an effective product, but has stirred concerns that it may be putting national prestige before sound science and safety.
The World Health Organisation cautioned Russia last week against rushing through the vaccine and that, coupled with the fact that Russia has only made public the results of phase one of clinical trails, has led to skepticism regarding the vaccine's effectiveness and safety.
Putin, however, said the vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, was safe and that it had even been administered to one of his daughters.
"I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks," said Putin.
He said he hoped the country would soon start mass producing the vaccine.
Its approval by the health ministry foreshadows the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.
Such trials, which require a certain rate of participants catching the virus to observe the vaccine's effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.
Regulators around the world have insisted that the rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines will not compromise safety. But recent surveys show growing public distrust in governments' efforts to rapidly produce such a vaccine.
How does the vaccine work?
Russia's vaccine candidate, developed by Gamaleya Research Institute and Russian Defence Ministry, is a viral vector vaccine which is based on human adenovirus fused with SARS CoV-2’s spike protein to stimulate an immune response in the body.
Russian health workers treating COVID-19 patients will be offered the chance of volunteering to be vaccinated soon after the vaccine's approval, a source told Reuters last month.
More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.
(With inputs from Reuters)