MOSCOW (NEWS 1130) – Russia has approved a COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to do so, declaring it ready for use even as critics cast doubt on its safety and efficacy.
Critics say Moscow is cutting corners and making a political move to assert itself, but President Vladimir Putin says the vaccine is good enough and claims one of his daughters has received it.
Peter Pitts is the president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and says he’s highly suspicious of the vaccine and the way it was developed.
“There’s zero data so we’re taking Vladimir Putin’s word for it…when people try to hide the science it generally means there is no science or it’s bad science, so I’m very suspicious,” says Pitts.
The treatment has yet to go through critical Phase 3 trials, when it normally would be administered to thousands of people, however, large-scale production could begin as early as the fall.
Putin says one of his daughters participated in the study to develop the vaccine and developed “many antibodies.”
Pitts says he is concerned about the ethical framework around drug development in Russia which has been embroiled in counterfeit drug scandals and lacks the robust regulation present in countries such as Canada and the U.S.
“They can do whatever they want and they can say whatever they want,” he says.
“What’s interesting is there’s no vaccine programs listed in the WHO database as happening in Russia, so this has been a secret program,” he says, adding it seems more like a public relations or political stunt than a legitimate medical achievement.
Pitts believes the vaccine was tested on the Russian military.
“Which is not ethical and of course the Russians have been accused of trying to hack into Western databases to steal secrets relative to vaccine development,” he says.
Russia’s minister of health has said a voluntary mass-vaccination campaign could move forward in the fall, adding medical workers, teachers, and others deemed high-risk would be the first in line and that the administration would be voluntary.
More than 30 COVID-19 vaccines are in varying stages of human trials globally, including here in Canada.
Earlier this month, Canada signed a deal with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and U.S.-based biotech firm Moderna to get doses of their experimental vaccine.
The companies started their third phase of clinical trials just weeks ago after reporting positive results from smaller trials. Their third phase will see the vaccine tested on 30,000 people, with results expected in the fall.
Russia’s announcement comes after caution from the World Health Organization that the country should not stray from the usual methods of vaccine testing.
It also comes after Canadian, British, and U.S. security services last month accused hackers who “almost certainly” are working for Russian intelligence groups of being behind cyber attacks on COVID-19 vaccine developments.
The countries accused a “threat group” known as APT29 — which is also named “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear” — of trying to steal research on COVID-19 vaccines from organizations in all three countries and around the world.
The state-sponsored hacking was apparently meant to steal information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines, and serve to hinder response efforts at a time when healthcare experts and medical researchers need every available resource to help fight the pandemic, according to Canada’s Communications Security Establishment.
-With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press