MOSCOW: Russia has named its first approved COVID-19 vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ for foreign markets, a reference to the world’s first satellite and what Moscow sees as its success at becoming the first country to approve a vaccine, a top official said on Tuesday.SA Times
Kirill Dmitriev, head of the country’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, said Russia had already received requests from more than 20 countries for 1 billion doses of its newly-registered COVID-19 vaccine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said a locally developed vaccine for Covid-19 has been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans.
Mr Putin said the vaccine had passed all the required checks, adding that his daughter had already been given it.
Officials have said they have plans to start a mass vaccination in October.
Experts have raised concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.
Amid fears that safety could have been compromised, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged Russia last week to follow international guidelines for producing a vaccine against Covid-19.
The Russian vaccine is not among the WHO’s list of six vaccines that have reached phase three clinical trials, which involve more widespread testing in humans.
Calling it a world first, President Putin said the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, offered “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the vaccine had “proven to be highly effective and safe”, hailing it as a big step towards “humankind’s victory” over Covid-19.
Last week, the Russian government announced it was preparing to begin mass vaccinations after saying it had carried out successful trials of the vaccine.
More than 100 vaccines around the world are in early development, with some of those being tested on people in clinical trials.
Despite rapid progress, most experts think a vaccine will not become widely available until mid-2021.
“Sometimes individual researchers claim they have found something, which is of course, as such, great news,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters on 4 August.
“But between finding or having a clue of maybe having a vaccine that works, and having gone through all the stages, is a big difference.”
Twenty countries around the world have requested more than a billion doses of Russia’s newly-approved coronavirus vaccine, according to the head of the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF).
The vaccine has been named “Sputnik-V” — a reference to the surprise 1957 launch of the world’s first satellite by the Soviet Union.
“We’ve seen considerable interest in the Russian vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute abroad. Moreover, we have received preliminary applications for over 1 billion doses of the vaccine from 20 countries,” RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev said Tuesday.
“Along with our foreign partners, we are already prepared to manufacture over 500 million doses of vaccine per year in five countries, and the plan is to ramp-up production capacity even higher.”
He added: “So far, countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia have displayed the greatest interest in the vaccine, and we are about to finalize a number of contracts for the purchase of the vaccine.”
The Russian vaccine is yet to pass the crucial Phase 3 testing stage. Phase 3 trials, typically involving thousands of participants, assess a drug’s safety and effectiveness.
Dmitriev said those trials would take place abroad.
“We have already reached agreements on conducting the relevant trials of the Gamaleya vaccine with partners from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and a number of other countries,” he said.
The Gamaleya vaccine is the first in the world to be approved but there are widespread concerns that essential corners may have been cut in its development.
Critics say the country’s push for a vaccine is partly due to political pressure from the Kremlin, which is keen to portray Russia as a global scientific force.
On Tuesday, Dmitriev hit out at criticisms of the vaccine and the lack of testing and trials.
“Coordinated and carefully-orchestrated media attacks on the Russian vaccine have attempted to discredit and conceal the correctness of Russia’s approach to the drug’s development,” he said.
Russia has released no scientific data on its testing, and SA Times is unable to verify the vaccine’s claimed safety or effectiveness.