As the worldwide COVID-19 case count surpasses 20 million, Russia comes forward with promises of “sustainable immunity.” Scientists raise questions over whether national pride or safety and efficacy were at the forefront of Moscow’s rapid vaccine development.
Rabat – Russia has developed the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine, Russia’s President Vladamir Putin announced on Tuesday.
“This morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus was registered,” Putin said in a video conference with government ministers on August 11.
Approved by Russia’s health ministry, the vaccine promises “sustainable immunity” against COVID-19.
According to Putin, one of his daughters was already inoculated and is feeling well.
“One of my daughters got vaccinated, so in this sense, she took part in the testing,” the Russian president said. He did not specify which of his daughters received the vaccine.
Putin explained that following the first vaccine shot, his daughter experienced a slight fever of 38 degrees Celsius. Her temperature fell to just above normal the next day.
“After the second shot, she had a slight fever again, and then everything was fine. She is feeling well and has a high antibody count,” Putin said.
Medical workers, teachers, and those considered at high-risk for contracting the novel coronavirus will be the first to receive the vaccine, which Putin said would be voluntary.
The Gamaleya Institute in Moscow developed the vaccine after less than two months of human testing.
“I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests,” Putin said. “The most important thing is to ensure full safety of using the vaccine and its efficiency.”
Following Putin’s announcement, Russia plans to begin large-scale production of the COVID-19 vaccine by September.
Speed and national pride could compromise safety
While Putin stresses the safety and success of the COVID-19 vaccine, saying that it underwent all necessary tests, the vaccine has been registered before Phase 3 trials.
In Phase 3 trials, the vaccine is normally given to thousands of people and tested over the course of several months or years to ensure safety and efficacy.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts have suggested that the race to win the title of first country to develop a vaccine may be influencing medical professionals to cut corners. The patriotic and scientific-technological race may be distracting world leaders from considering where the vaccine could do the most good and how to create the most safe and sustainable solutions to the pandemic.
In July, the New York Times reported that China was offering several vaccine candidates to employees of state-owned companies and the military.
Joan Shen, the Shanghai-based chief executive officer of pharmaceutical firm I-Mab Biopharma, called the move to test people outside of the normal regulatory process, with vaccines that have not been approved by regulators, “unethical.”
In the same vein, the power of pharmaceutical companies has swayed the scope and bearings of production.
US President Donald Trump has mused over relocating pharmaceutical companies in Europe to the US and has offered large sums of money to companies in order to stake US claims in the race.
Paul Hudson, American CEO of the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, mentioned that the large investment that the US was making in vaccine research would lead the country to get first access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Earlier this month, Moncef Slaoui, the Moroccan-born immunologist heading the United States’ coronavirus vaccine efforts, Operation Warp Speed (OWS), announced that a vaccine would be ready and available to everyone in the United States “ideally within the first half of 2021.”
OWS is funding eight possible vaccines in hopes of delivering 300 million doses by January 2021.
So far, five of those vaccines are already in Phase 3 of their clinical trials.
While Slaoui suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine would be “highly effective,” he expressed concerns over the duration of the potential vaccine’s effectiveness.
“I think the question that’s open is, for how long will the vaccine afford efficacy?”
World tops 20 million COVID-19 cases
Russia’s announcement of registering the first COVID-19 vaccine comes as the number of worldwide COVID-19 cases surpasses 20 million.
According to John Hopkins University, more than 12.2 million people have recovered from the virus and nearly 735,000 have died.
With over five million people infected, the United States has the highest case count, followed by Brazil (more than three million), and India (nearly 2.3 million).
A number of countries around the world report experiencing a “second wave” of the virus. On August 10, World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Director of the Emergencies Program Mike Ryan warned, “If you take pressure off the virus, the virus will bounce back.”
In recent weeks, a number of countries, Morocco included, have reported record-high case counts, leading officials to reinforce restrictive measures, and, in some cases, sending the most-affected locations back into lockdown.