On the face of it the announcement by President Putin that Russia has registered the first vaccine against COVID-19 should be widely celebrated.
It’s listed by the World Health Organization with the codename « Gam-COVID-vac », made by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow.
And it’s just completed a phase 1 study in 38 people – that’s a trial to assess whether it has any major side effects and whether it produces a good immune response.
No data has been published – in contrast with other experimental vaccines in the UK, US and China.
But President Putin assured government ministers in a televised video conference that one of his daughters had been given two doses of the vaccine.
Although she initially had a slight fever she is now well and has a high antibody count, he said.
That needs a phase 3 study involving several thousand people over many months, with some given the COVID-19 vaccine and others a jab against another disease.
The coronavirus infection rate can then be compared in the two groups to confirm whether the experimental vaccine is protective.
But the Russian vaccine won’t start a phase 3 trial until later this week, so we just don’t know whether it works.
It may be a quirk of the Russian regulatory system that allows a vaccine to be registered at a much earlier stage.
In Europe and the US authorities would want all the data before signing it off for wider use.
Significantly, the vaccine is going to be distributed abroad under the name « Sputnik V », a reference, of course, to the first satellite to orbit the planet during the space race all those decades ago.
It’s a dig at the West, more about geopolitics and national pride – another Russian « first » – than good science.
We know that a significant number of people are concerned about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines because they’re being developed at such high speed.
If there are problems further down the line with the Russian prototype there is a risk it will undermine trust in vaccines that have been properly tested.
© 2020 Sky UK
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