Wednesday, 23 Sep 2020

Russia's Covid-19 vaccine approved too hastily: Germany

BERLIN/MOSCOW • German Health Minister Jens Spahn said yester-day that Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine has not been tested sufficiently, adding that the aim is to have a safe product rather than just to be the first to vaccinate people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing. It will start mass inoculation this month.

Moscow’s decision to grant approval before final trials have been completed has raised concerns.

Mr Spahn told radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk: “It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I am very sceptical about what is going on in Russia.

“I would be pleased if we had an initial, good vaccine, but based on everything we know – and that is the fundamental problem, namely that the Russians aren’t telling us much.”

He added it was crucial, even during a pandemic, to carry out proper studies and tests, and make the results public to give people confidence in the vaccine.

“It is not about being first somehow, it is about having an effective, tested and, therefore, safe vaccine,” he said when asked about Russia’s vaccine, which will be called “Sputnik V”, in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union.

Only about 10 per cent of clinical trials are successful, and some scientists fear that Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.

But Mr Putin and other officials have said the vaccine, developed by Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, Russia’s Defence Ministry and the sovereign Russian Direct Investment Fund, is completely safe.

Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said yesterday: “Western colleagues, who can sense the competitive advantage of the Russian drug, are trying to express some opinions that are completely unjustified in our view.

“This vaccine is a platform that is already well known and studied.”

He added that other countries have developed antidotes under accelerated testing programmes.

The Russian authorities plan to start inoculating medical workers and other high-risk groups within two weeks on a voluntary basis, said Dr Murashko. The vaccine will be available to the wider population from October.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 750,000 people worldwide, infected more than 20 million and crippled national economies.

Companies including AstraZeneca and Moderna are still conducting final-stage trials of their vaccines in studies that are expected to yield results soon.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund said it will be able to produce more than 500 million doses a year in five countries. At least 20 nations, including the Philippines, are interested in obtaining supplies, it added.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has lauded the Russian vaccine and offered to be “injected in public” to allay public fears about its safety.

Philippine Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country’s experts will meet representatives of Gamaleya Institute to discuss trials and will request a “complete dossier” on the vaccine. “We will see if the allegations are true,” Dr Vergeire said, referring to concerns that the vaccine was approved hastily.

The Philippines has among Asia’s highest number of Covid-19 cases, which rose to 143,749 yesterday, two days after hitting a daily record of 6,958 cases. A strict lockdown has been re-imposed in and around the capital Manila.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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