Cautious welcome for Russian vaccine claims

Russia has claimed to have made a vaccine for Covid-19 and they are calling it Sputnik V. Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
Russia has claimed to have made a vaccine for Covid-19 and they are calling it Sputnik V. Image: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

If Russia has produced a successful Covid-19 vaccine it would be roundly welcomed, though it would take some time before it was available in SA.

That is the view of former Eastern Cape health MEC Dr Bevan Goqwana after Russia announced it had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing.

ABC News’ Ian Pannell reports on concerns the Russians rushed the clinical trial process. Experts say small trial sizes and lack of data make the safety of the vaccine unclear. WATCH the ABC News Live Stream Here: SUBSCRIBE to ABC NEWS: Watch More on LIKE ABC News on FACEBOOK FOLLOW ABC News on TWITTER: #ABCNLPrime #Russia #COVID-19 #Vaccine

The vaccine, which will be called “Sputnik V” in homage to the world's first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, has not, however, completed its final trials.

Goqwana, who is a special adviser at the OR Tambo district's Covid-19 joint operations centre, stressed that it might take more than 10 months for SA to get  the vaccine.

He told the Dispatch there were financial implications attached.

“We have been waiting for the vaccine for a long time now. So anybody who's going to come up with a permanent change to the Covid-19 situation, I think that is a good thing and we welcome Russia's efforts.  If there's proof it is effective, we welcome that vaccine,” Goqwana said.

“A vaccine usually takes a lot of time to develop, because there are tests involved with the process, and then it can be produced by our local pharmaceutical companies. So it will take some time to make it available in the country, but we are also hopeful that the situation will improve as we head for the summer season.”

Moscow's decision to grant approval before the tests are complete has raised concerns among some experts. Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful and some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and other officials have said it is completely safe. The president said one of his daughters had taken it as a volunteer and felt good afterwards.

“I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the necessary checks,” Putin told a government meeting.

The Russian business conglomerate Sistema has said it expects to put the vaccine, developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, into mass production by the end of the year.

Government officials have said it will be administered to medical personnel, and then to teachers, on a voluntary basis at the end of this month or in early September. Mass rollout in Russia is expected to start in October.

The vaccine is administered in two doses and consists of two serotypes of a human adenovirus, each carrying an S-antigen of the new coronavirus, which enter human cells and produce an immune response.

The platform used for the vaccine was developed by Russian scientists over two decades and had formed the basis for several vaccines in the past, including those against Ebola.

The approval by the health ministry comes before the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.

Such trials, which require a certain proportion of participants to catch the virus to observe the vaccine's effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.

US health secretary Alex Azar, asked about Russia's announcement, said safety was paramount and late-stage trials were key. He said the US was on track for an effective vaccine by the end of the year, with six candidates under development.

“The point is not to be first with a vaccine. The point is to have a vaccine that is safe and effective,” Azar said on ABC News' Good Morning America programme.

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