Russia’s new Sputnik launch raises risks in dash for COVID shots

Published August 16, 2020, 6:27 PM

by Bloomberg

Russia’s decision to approve a coronavirus shot before crucial tests have shown it’s safe and effective raises worries that politics will trump public health in the quest for a vaccine.

This handout picture taken on August 6, 2020 and provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund shows the vaccine against the coronavirus disease, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.
(Photo by Handout / Russian Direct Investment Fund / AFP / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

The country’s plan to start mass in- oculations as soon as October could put pressure on other governments to rush ahead of regulators and skip key steps, putting people who get the jabs at risk.

Any major setback in Russia could damage confidence in vaccines.

The stakes are high in the bid to end a crisis that’s killed more than 750,000 people worldwide.

The Trump administration is pushing ahead with Operation Warp Speed, an unprecedented US effort to accelerate COVID vaccine development and manufacturing, and a massive mobilization is underway in China to get immunizations across the line.

President Vladimir Putin’s Aug. 11 announcement on Russia’s shot adds a new twist.

Any move to roll out the vaccine based on limited evidence that it works could have harmful consequences, said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“That could cause other leaders to say: ‘Look, they’re doing it, and that’s good enough. And if that’s good enough for them, we don’t want to lose out. We want to protect our populations, too,’” he said.

Russian officials have dismissed concerns about safety and the pace at which the country is moving.

Western jealousy, they say, is fueling criticism of the vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V in a nod to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite sent into space in 1957.

Putin said one of his daughters has already been given the shot.

Authorities said they plan to start inoculating medical workers and other risk groups by the end of the month, introducing it to volunteers who will be closely monitored, and they add that other countries are moving swiftly too.

Russia last month began clinical trials for a second vaccine, developed by the Vector laboratory in Novosibirsk.

Meanwhile, developers including Britain’s AstraZeneca Plc – the University of Oxford’s partner – and US biotech company Moderna Inc. are still in final-stage trials involving tens of thousands of people.

Although President Donald Trump has said a vaccine may be ready by election day on Nov. 3, Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said it may take until well into 2021 for shots to reach much of the public.