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Russia develops controversial COVID-19 vaccine

Posted August. 13, 2020 07:33,   

Updated August. 13, 2020 07:33


Conflicts between Russia and the West surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine officially registered for the first time in the world by Russia on Tuesday are growing. As British researchers said the vaccine could be “little better than water,” Russia confronted by saying that the West is systematically denigrating the country’s achievement.

"Coordinated and carefully prepared information attacks on the Russian vaccine are trying to discredit and hide the correctness of the Russian approach to drug development,” Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) CEO Kirill Dmitriev said on Tuesday, according to TASS. “A politicized approach to the Russian vaccine on the part of a number of Western countries endangers the lives of their citizens.”

The RDIF CEO’s comments were made following the doubtful reactions of the U.S. and Germany to Russia’s newly developed vaccine after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the official registration of the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. “The point is not to be first with a vaccine, the point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar following Russia’s announcement.

Other experts also criticized Russia for commercializing the unproven vaccine to obtain the title of the world’s first and assume the vaccine hegemony. “It’s unprecedented to completely skip a Phase 3 trial like this in modern medicine,” a researcher at the University of Sussex told the Sun. “You're at the stage where you might be vaccinating people with something that isn't much better than water.”

Phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials are the international standards of medicine development. A vaccine should obtain final approval on its safety by conducting tests on a large number of people before commercialization. Most pharmaceutical companies conduct Phase 3 trials. However, the Russian government only announced that its vaccine has gone through a Phase 2 trial at the beginning of this month without revealing any detailed data.

Currently, six vaccines are in the Phase 3 trial stage across the world. About 5.7 billion doses have been pre-ordered amid fierce competition among Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Novavax in the U.S., AstraZeneca in the U.K., Sanofi in France and BioNTech in Germany. The Financial Times has warned that each country is trying to become the first COVID-19 developer, rather than working with each other and that the “vaccine hegemonism” may emerge.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that a medical verification of the Russian vaccine is first required. The Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO) also sent a letter to the Russian government on Tuesday urging the country to delay the approval of the vaccine until its Phase 3 trial is completed.

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com