Science | August 11, 2020 11:24 am

Russia Just Approved the First COVID-19 Vaccine, But Skipped a Major Step

Vladimir Putin says it passes "all needed checks," but widespread human trials haven't even begun

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.
ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

We’re all desperate for a vaccine, but Russia may be jumping ahead too far in its quest to contain COVID-19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has given regulatory approval to an experimental vaccine to combat coronavirus. The vaccine, however, has only undergone two months of human testing and has not reached what the World Health Organization would consider the important phase three of clinical trials, which is a more widespread study on humans. (Phase three is still expected to come later this year.)

While the WHO has expressed major reservations, Putin has said the vaccine — developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute — has passed “all needed checks” and that he’s even given it to one of his daughters.

This new Russian vaccine uses adapted strains a virus that usually causes the common cold to trigger an immune response (it was also developed on the basis of a previously registered inoculation against Ebola, according to the Wall Street Journal). The Russian scientists utilized military testing, accelerated clinical evaluations and shortened trial times to speed up the process.

As of now, the Gamaleya Institute has released no safety or immunity data to back up any claims of success.

A newly posted letter from Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations to that country’s health minister expressed deep concerns about the methods behind the potential vaccine: “It hasn’t even completed testing with participation of even 100 people … [the third phase is] exactly in the course of that phase when proof of the effectiveness can be ascertained as well as information about undesirable reactions, which the vaccine can cause in various patient groups.”

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