Just this Tuesday, August 11, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia has developed the first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against coronavirus. Such claim has been made although the vaccine has yet to complete clinical trials. There are even warnings from the global authorities against cutting corners.
Mr. Putin’s announcement came despite a caution last week from the World Health Organization (WHO) that Russia should not neglect and stray away from the usual methods of testing the vaccine to ensure it is safe and effective.
The Russian dash for a vaccine has already raised international concerns that Moscow is cutting corners on testing to score and political and propaganda points. Mr. Putin’s announcement became essentially a claim of victory in the global race for vaccines which is something Russian officials have been telegraphing for several weeks now despite the absence of published information about any late-phase testing.
This whole claim was met with skepticism by outside health experts, including some in the United States. While on a visit to Taiwan, Alex Azar, US Health and Human Services Secretary was asked by ABC on Tuesday what he thought about the said claim. He responded by saying it’s more important to have a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus than to be the first to produce a vaccine.
He added how important it is to have transparent data on the vaccine to prove its safety and efficacy. He also noted that the US has six vaccines in development under the Operation Warp Speed Initiative, which is financing research by Pfizer and Moderna for a genetic vaccine and supporting a variety of other experimental technologies.
According to the New York Times, vaccines generally go through three stages of human testing before being approved for widespread use. The first two phases test the vaccine on relatively small groups of people only to see if it causes harm and if it stimulates the immune system. The last phase, commonly known as Phase 3, compares the vaccine to a much bigger scale like thousands of people.
This final phase is the only way to know with statistical certainty whether a vaccine prevents an infection. And because it’s testing a much larger group of people, the said phase can also pick up more subtle side effects of a vaccine that earlier trials could not.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has emphasized that a new coronavirus vaccine would need to be 50 percent more effective than a placebo in order to be approved. And the Russian scientific body that developed the vaccine, the Gamaleya Institute, has yet to conduct Phase 3 tests on tens of thousands of volunteers in highly controlled trials.
Right now, the US has the highest death and case count in the world, with more than 163,000 deaths and over 5 million cases. Meanwhile, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway expressed skepticism about the testing backing up Russia’s claim that it has successfully developed a COVID-19 vaccine.
Conway said on Fox’ “Fox & Friends” that the US standards are so much more strict and tight. She also added that, “Our FDA in our country sets the standards and what I understand from the Russia announcement is this is nowhere near where we are.”
Currently, researchers around the world are developing more than 165 vaccines against the coronavirus, and 30 vaccines are in human trials.