The head of the Russian fund backing a coronavirus vaccine has declared his full confidence in the project — despite significant skepticism.
The country’s announcement comes weeks after the U.S., UK and Canada accused Russian hackers of trying to steal their research into Covid-19. And before Russia has completed the conventional three phases of trials.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund backing the vaccine called Sputnik V said he has full confidence in the scientists involved in the project and their techniques honed over long years of studying Ebola.
“We’re being attacked for not doing it long enough,” he told Fox News. “We’re also being attacked by the lobby of pharma companies and by some politicians. The scientists who understand it know the credibility of our institute is strong because it’s one of the best institutes in the world for vaccines. We may not be strong in some other areas, but in vaccines, Russia is strong.”
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Dmitriev says he has also used the vaccine himself and on his family, including his septuagenarian parents.
He recalled key moments in the history of Russian science and medicine. Russian leader Catherine the Great was one of the earliest believers in the idea of vaccine, having brought an English doctor all the way to St. Petersburg to inoculate herself and her son against the smallpox that was running roughshod across the country in 1768. She took a cutting-edge treatment and apparently had a team of horses on hand in case things went wrong and that doctor had to be spirited out of the country to avoid a lynching.
Dmitriev explained that the new vaccine works on a dual vector system, the administration of two different adenoviruses that deliver a corona-shaped protein and is produced by the Gamelaya Institute.
The World Health Organization has not received full information on Russia’s potential COVID-19 vaccine and as such cannot evaluate it. “Accelerating vaccine research should be done following established processes through every step of development, to ensure that any vaccines that eventually go into production are both safe and effective,” the WHO, a United Nations agency, said in a statement. “WHO is in touch with Russian scientists and authorities, and looks forward to reviewing details of the trials.”
The U.K.-based Science Media Centre posted reaction to Russia’s announcement from several professors. Many expressed concerns about a lack of transparency in the process and that the Russians were rushing it.
Dmitriev said the vaccine has gone through phases one and two of the standard three phases, but some question whether in fact they’ve actually gone that far.
Phase three is meant to last months and typically detects side effects as well as how effective the vaccine is against the broadest sample.
Danny Altman, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College of London wrote: “The collateral damage from the release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective would exacerbate our current problems insurmountably…we are all in this together.”
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Dr. Ohid Yaqub of the University of Sussex spoke to the notion of “vaccine nationalism,” writing:
“I would hope other countries are not drawn in to such pork-barrel nationalism….decision making should be published, open to scrutiny and free from flag waving. We should resist allowing vaccine development to be used as a measure of national scientific prowess.”
Sputnik was the world’s first satellite launched into orbit and set off a space race.
No doubt Putin would like to save the world from COVID-19. He wouldn’t be the only one.
Dmitriev insisted Russia wants to work together on cures and treatments with other countries.
“We believe we should have a political ceasefire about coronavirus, about vaccines. We are humans after all,” he said. “We are humans first and citizens of our countries second.”
Russia has seen more than 900,000 cases and over 15,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
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Dmitriev claims that Russia will release data later this month and people will be able to see for themselves in greater detail. Russia plans to start widespread inoculations in October but will continue testing up to and through that time.