Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that his country’s Ministry of Health has issued a “registration certificate” for the world’s first coronavirus vaccine. Having only been tested on 76 people so far, many scientists and analysts around the world have strong reservations.
“We must begin the mass production of the vaccine, so anyone who wants to can benefit from the breakthrough of our scientists,” Putin said at a government meeting on Aug. 11, adding that inoculations on a voluntary basis will begin in Russia.
The vaccine, manufactured by Binnopharm, one of Russia’s largest pharmaceutical companies with a large research department, is named “Sputnik V”.
The name of the vaccine is a clear indication of Russia’s ambitions: the Soviet-made Sputnik satellite was the first man-made object to reach space on Oct. 4, 1957.
“Let’s be very blunt here: Putin needs a win, he needs a domestic win,” J. Stephen Morrison, a senior vice president at think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC. “This is a case of Russia cutting corners for big gains, big wins domestically and — they hope — internationally.”
Speaking to Science Magazine, Russian virologist Alexey Chumakov also expressed serious reservations both regarding the testing and the approval procedure.
“This is really a gamble and I don’t know how this can be decided in advance,” Chumakov said about the claimed effectiveness of the vaccine. Regarding approval, procedures, he was even more skeptical. “As a very old and classic saying goes: ‘The strictness of Russian laws is compensated by the fact that it’s not necessary to follow them.'”
Hungarian virologist Ferenc Jakab, head of the country’s Coronavirus Research Group, told daily Magyar Nemzet the fact that the vaccine hasn’t even reached the third mass testing phase required by most countries’ drug approval procedures is in itself a cause for concern.
“The race for vaccine development is like space research: Everybody wants to be the first on the Moon,” Jakab said. “So far, it is very difficult to judge the effectiveness of the vaccine as there are no scientific publications supporting the tests, nor do we know what tests have been performed and with what results.”
Title image: 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.