Does Russia Really Have an Effective Coronavirus Vaccine?

On Tuesday, August 11, Russia announced that scientists had created the world’s first coronavirus vaccine for public use. The global public health community met the news with skepticism.

The vaccine-named “Sputnik V,” a reference to an early Soviet victory in the Space Race-is being developed by researchers at the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow who have yet to publish any peer-reviewed data. Since the initial announcement, Russian authorities have reported that a Phase 3 clinical trial (or an equivalent) is underway with more than 2,000 participants. But Phase 3 trials are typically much larger, and required to go favorably, before a vaccine is approved for widespread use. One of the leading vaccine candidates from the United States, developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, is also currently beginning a Phase 3 trial.

“Really, [Russia has] released that they have a candidate,” says Veronika Wirtz, a Boston University School of Public Health associate professor of global health and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Pharmaceutical Policy. “World politics at the moment aren’t just being played out with nuclear weapons or trade wars. In this pandemic, countries that want to put themselves at the forefront on the world stage are now saying, ‘We have the coronavirus vaccine.'”

After the Sputnik V vaccine announcement, The Brink reached out to Wirtz to ask what she knows about the vaccine, the potential harms of prematurely announcing a coronavirus vaccine is ready for public use, and what concerns she has about political pressure to speedily get a vaccine approved for use here in the US.

If this vaccine fails, and perhaps even creates great harm, [will people fear getting future safe and effective vaccines?] ‘Wait a minute, how can I now be sure that the vaccine from, say, a big pharmaceutical company in the UK is actually safe if I know that this vaccine from Russia does so much harm?

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