Russia rushes Covid-19 vaccine, dismaying bioethicists

Russia has become the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, even though it has only been tested on a few dozen people. According to AP, President Vladimir Putin declared that one of his two adult daughters had already been inoculated.

“I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity,” Putin said. “We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world.”

Scientists in other countries, and even in Russia, were aghast at the fact that the vaccine – which has been dubbed Sputkik 5 -- was being released before Phase 3 trials. “Fast-tracked approval will not make Russia the leader in the race; it will just expose consumers of the vaccine to unnecessary danger,” said Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations.

Phase 3 trials on tens of thousands of people are generally regarded as the only way to prove if an experimental vaccine is safe and effective. These take months.

While Russian officials have said large-scale production of the vaccine is not scheduled until September, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said vaccination of doctors could start as early as August. Officials say they will be closely monitored after the injections. Mass vaccination may begin as early as October.

According to The Verge, experts think that early release of a vaccine is very unwise:

“There are three major worries with releasing an unproven vaccine to the public. If the vaccine is unsafe or has severe side effects, then it could harm people, upending their lives. If the vaccine doesn’t work, then people could move through the world with a false sense of security, potentially exacerbating the spread of disease. And if either of those things happens, there’s a very serious risk that people’s distrust of vaccines will skyrocket, making it harder for public health officials to halt future disease outbreaks — not just this one.”

Some scientists accuse Russia of dangerous grandstanding. Nigel McMillan, of Griffith University, in Australia, says “This is vaccine nationalism at play (the Sputnik V name says it all) and the danger here is that if there are issues going forward with this vaccine, in terms of efficacy or safety, it will put the entire vaccine effort in a very difficult position, as people will lose trust or hope that any vaccine will work."

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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