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‘They aren’t telling us much’: Scepticism builds as world waits for proof of Russia vaccine

Experts doubtful due to lack of transparency in supposed world-first success

Liam James
Wednesday 12 August 2020 18:13 BST
Former FDA commissioner says he wouldn't take newly-approved Russian vaccine for Covid-19

Leading health experts from around the world have continued to raise doubts about Russia’s claim that it has developed a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Following Russian president Vladimir Putin’s claim on Tuesday that Moscow had approved the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine after less than two months of testing, Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, expressed “serious doubt” about the validity of the vaccine trial.

“I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” Dr Fauci said in a panel discussion with National Geographic.

Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn also said on Wednesday that he was “very sceptical about what’s going on in Russia”.

“I would be pleased if we had an initial, good vaccine but based on everything we know – and that’s the fundamental problem, namely that the Russians aren’t telling us much – this has not been sufficiently tested,” he added.

Also expressing concerns about the validity of the trial was former chief of the US Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb, who said: “It appears that it’s only been tested in several hundred patients at most.

“I wouldn’t take it, certainly not outside a clinical trial right now.”

Russia has not made any further information about the vaccine public, leading experts to question why it has not followed the precedent for transparency set by other countries trialling vaccines.

The results of the University of Oxford’s vaccine trial were published in The Lancet medical journal, for example, and mid-stage data from China’s Sinovac trial were released on Monday.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said: “While information on the vast majority of the vaccines and trial protocols in the world have been made available, there seems to be rather little detail thus far on the Russian candidates.

“The bar is necessarily set very high for criteria that must be satisfied for approval [of the vaccine after trial] ... I hope these criteria have been followed. We are all in this together.”

In Mexico, where trials are underway for potential vaccines developed by China and the US, deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said he was surprised by the Russian announcement and that the government would wait for more information.

Israel plans to examine the drug and will enter negotiations if it is found to be a “serious product,” health minister Yuli Edelstein said on Wednesday.

Some countries friendly to Russia have expressed a desire for access to the vaccine. Kazakhstan has said it will send officials to Moscow later this month to discuss possible deliveries of the drug.

Meanwhile, Brazilian state Parana is in talks with Russia to produce the vaccine and Philippine scientists were set to meet representatives of the research facility that developed the vaccine on Wednesday to discuss possible participation in clinical trials and access to its research data.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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