The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it was looking forward to reviewing clinical trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine developed in Russia.
President Vladimir Putin declared Russia the first country to approve a vaccine on Tuesday even though final stage testing involving more than 2,000 people was only due to start on Wednesday.
The WHO says 28 of more than 150 potential vaccines are currently being actively tested on humans, among which six have reached Phase 3, the final stage when candidate drugs are tested on large groups of people.
Russia’s vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya research institute and the defence ministry, is among the 28 in clinical evaluation but is listed by the WHO as only being in Phase 1.
“WHO is in touch with Russian scientists and authorities, and looks forward to reviewing details of the trials. ” the United Nations health agency said in a statement.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin said one of his daughters has received two doses, and had minor side effects such as slight fever, and is now “feeling well and has a high number of antibodies.” It wasn’t clear if she was one of the study volunteers.
The World Health Organization has urged that all vaccine candidates go through full stages of testing before being rolled out, and said Tuesday it is in touch with the Russian scientists and “looks forward to reviewing” Russia’s study data. Experts have warned that vaccines that are not properly tested can cause harm in many ways —from harming health to creating a false sense of security or undermining trust in vaccinations.
Becoming the first country in the world to approve a vaccine was a matter of national prestige for the Kremlin as it tries to assert the image of Russia as a global power. Putin repeatedly praised Russia’s effective response to the outbreak in televised addresses to the nation, while some of Moscow’s top officials –including the country’s prime minister and Putin’s own spokesperson –became infected.
And the U.S., Britain and Canada last month accused Russia of using hackers to steal vaccine research from Western labs. Russia has denied involvement.
While Russian officials have said large-scale production of the vaccine wasn’t scheduled until September, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month. Officials say they will be closely monitored after the injections. Mass vaccination may begin as early as October.
“We expect tens of thousands of volunteers to be vaccinated within the next months,” Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled the vaccine, told reporters.