Russia has approved a controversial Covid-19 vaccine for widespread use after less than two months of human testing, including a dose administered to one of Vladimir Putin’s daughters.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the country’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, said the vaccine would be marketed abroad under the brand name Sputnik V with international agreements to produce 500m doses and requests for 1 billion from 20 countries.
Russia (Russian: Росси́я, tr. Rossiya, IPA: [rɐˈsʲijə]), or the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country located in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Covering an area of 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), it is the largest country in the world by area, spanning more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area, stretching eleven time zones, and bordering 16 sovereign nations. The territory of Russia extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea and the Caucasus in the south. With 146.7 million inhabitants living in the country’s 85 federal subjects, Russia is the most populous nation in Europe and the ninth-most populous nation in the world. Russia’s capital and largest city is Moscow; other major urban areas include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Chelyabinsk and Samara.
The East Slavs emerged as a recognisable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. The medieval state of Rus’ arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Rus’ ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states, until it was finally reunified by the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the 15th century. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which became a major European power, and the third-largest empire in history, stretching from Norway on the west to Canada on the east. Following the Russian Revolution, the Russian SFSR became the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world’s first constitutionally socialist state. The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and emerged as a recognised superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world’s first human-made satellite and the launching of the first humans in space. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian SFSR reconstituted itself as the Russian Federation and is recognised as the continuing legal personality and a successor of the USSR.Following the constitutional crisis of 1993, a new constitution was adopted and Russia has been governed as a federal semi-presidential republic. Vladimir Putin became acting president on 31 December 1999 after Boris Yeltsin resigned and was elected president in March 2000. Since then, he has dominated Russia’s political system as either president or prime minister. His government has been accused by non-governmental organisations of numerous human rights abuses, authoritarianism and corruption. In response, Putin has argued that Western-style liberalism is obsolete in Russia, while maintaining that the country is still a democratic nation.The Russian economy ranks as the fifth-largest in Europe, the eleventh-largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fifth-largest by PPP. Russia’s extensive mineral and energy resources are the largest such reserves in the world, making it one of the leading producers of oil and natural gas globally. The country is one of the five recognised nuclear weapons states and possesses the largest stockpile of nuclear warheads. Russia is a major great power, as well as a regional power, and has been characterised as a potential superpower. The Russian Armed Forces have been ranked as the world’s second most powerful, and the most powerful in Europe. Russia hosts the world’s ninth-greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, at 29, and is among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and an active global partner of ASEAN, as well as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the International Investment Bank (IIB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as being the leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
Russia approves Sputnik V Covid vaccine despite testing safety …
The vaccine’s name evokes the world’s first satellite to be launched into orbit, Sputnik, during the cold war space race, which was also seen as a competition for international prestige.
The development was hailed by Putin as evidence of Russia’s scientific prowess, but the truncated testing regime has raised eyebrows elsewhere for skipping so-called phase 3 large-scale safety trials, which usually take months. Instead, phase 3 trials will be conducted in parallel with mass production of the vaccine, including in Brazil.
Russia approves Sputnik V Covid vaccine despite testing safety …
While the approval paves the way for mass inoculations in Russia, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, it is unlikely to accelerate the pace of efforts to produce a vaccine for use in the west, where licensing requirements are more stringent. Russia has registered 897,599 coronavirus cases, the fourth highest number of cases in the world, and 15,131 deaths.
Mass production of the vaccine is likely to begin soon, Putin said. Doctors and teachers would be the first to get immunised, with the vaccine made available for medics from late August or September. The drug will go into general use from January 2021. Vaccination will be voluntary, Putin added.
However, even as the vaccine was announced some public sector workers have expressed scepticism over its safety and point out that Russia’s healthcare system is badly under-funded and run down.
“I don’t trust the government. There’s no way I’m taking the vaccine,” one Moscow teacher, who declined to be named, said.
Speaking at a government meeting on state television, Putin said the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, was safe and that it had even been administered to one of his daughters, appearing to confirm a report by Bloomberg that the families of some members of Russia’s elite had been given early preferential access to the vaccine, perhaps as early as April.
“I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks,” said Putin.
Putin said that his daughter had a temperature of 38C on the day of the first vaccine injection, and then it dropped to just over 37C on the following day. After the second shot she again had a slight increase in temperature, but then it was all over.
“She’s feeling well and has high number of antibodies,” Putin added. He didn’t specify which of his two daughters, Maria or Katerina, had received the vaccine.
Phase 3 trials are used to detect rare side effects and also to measure how effective a vaccine is in the broadest sample of a population.
Prof Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine, said that vaccination would start while the phase 3 trials continued. He said that initially there will be only enough doses to conduct vaccination in 10-15 of Russia;s 85 regions, according to the Interfax news agency.
Gintsburg raised eyebrows in May when he said that he and other researchers tried the vaccine on themselves.
Human studies started 17 June among 76 volunteers. Half were injected with a vaccine in liquid form and the other half with a vaccine that came as soluble powder. Some in the first half were recruited from the military, which raised concerns that servicemen may have been pressured to participate.
Russia’s health minister, Mikhail Murashko, said that the vaccine was safe, efficient and produced high levels of antibodies among the volunteers that had tested it. “None of them had serious complications from immunisation,” Murashko said, adding that immunity might last up to two years.
Experts have been sounding the alarm that any vaccines to emerge may be only partially effective, and may not give equal protection to all, given how little is known about different genetic and other susceptibilities to the virus.
The World Health Organization has said all vaccine candidates should go through full stages of testing before being rolled out. Experts have warned that vaccines that are not properly tested can cause harm in many ways from a negative impact on health to creating a false sense of security or undermining trust in vaccinations.
Among concerns about rushing to mass inoculation is that if the vaccine turns out to have limited efficacy it could undermine other social measures for suppression of the disease.
More widely, any subsequent safety issues with the Russian vaccine could embolden anti-vaxxers, many of whom have stuck to their beliefs despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Regulators around the world have insisted that the rush to develop Covid-19 vaccines will not compromise safety. But recent surveys show growing public distrust in governments’ efforts to rapidly produce such a vaccine.