Russia claimed on Tuesday that it has developed the world’s first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus, despite mounting scepticism about its effectiveness as fears grow over a second wave of infections across the globe.
President Vladimir Putin said the vaccine was safe and that one of his daughters had received the inoculation, dubbed “Sputnik” after the pioneering 1950s Soviet satellite.
“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” Putin said of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with Moscow’s defence ministry.
Russia’s health ministry said though clinical trials were not yet complete and final stage testing involving more than 2,000 people was to start only on Wednesday.
Western scientists have previously raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.
World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman in Geneva Tarik Jasarevic said it was in “close contact” with Russian health authorities but that it was too soon for any WHO stamp of approval.
He said: “Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data.”
In Berlin, a spokesman for the German health ministry told newspaper group RND that “there is no known data on the quality, efficacy and safety of the Russian vaccine”, adding that “patient safety is of the highest priority”.
Russia hopes to begin production next month and start vaccinating medical staff immediately afterwards.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian sovereign wealth fund that helped develop the vaccine, said the doubts about the vaccines were part of “coordinated and carefully orchestrated media attacks” designed to “discredit” the country.
He said that 20 foreign countries have pre-ordered over a billion doses.
The race for a vaccine is heating up as nations across the globe brace for new outbreaks of the disease – even as they try to restart economies battered by months of lockdown.
Indonesia said Tuesday it would launch a Phase 3 human trial of a vaccine candidate from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
Phase 3 refers to trials involving large numbers of human test subjects and is usually the last step before regulatory approval.
Sinovac’s vaccine, dubbed CoronaVac, is already being tested on 9,000 Brazilian health workers.
The WHO says that 165 candidate vaccines are being worked on around the world, with six reaching Phase 3.
But emergencies director Michael Ryan warned that finding a vaccine would not automatically spell the end for Covid-19.
He said: “We have perfectly effective polio and measles vaccines, and we still struggle to eradicate or eliminate those diseases. You’ve got to be able to deliver that vaccine to a population that want and demand to have that vaccine.”