MOSCOW—Russia plans to roll out a Covid-19 vaccine to the general population starting in October, hoping to be the first country to start mass vaccinations against a virus that has killed more than 679,000 people world-wide.
Russia, which has seen the effects of coronavirus pandemic strain its health-care system and lockdown measures hit its economy, has shortened trial approval times and sped up clinical evaluations in an attempt to assert itself in the race for vaccine.
“We’re planning a broader vaccination in October,” Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told Russian news agencies Saturday. He said the effort would follow the vaccination of health-care workers and teachers, who will get administered the vaccine first.
Earlier this week a Russian official said a vaccine made by the state-owned Gamaleya Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology should be registered by mid-August, the most important step before the vaccine can be administered for medical use. Those efforts have put Russia ahead of its Western peers in developing and preparing a vaccination for widespread administration.
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While some Western vaccine candidates are going through a third test phase right now, Russia’s decision to skip a third test before the vaccine is registered has led some to worry that the country may be trading public safety for national prestige.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious-disease expert, said during a House Covid-19 subcommittee hearing on Friday that the U.S. would likely not use vaccines developed in China or Russia.
“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone,” he said. “Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic, at best.”
Dr. Fauci said he hoped the U.S. would have a vaccine by the end of the year.
The vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute is one of two undergoing late-stage trials in Russia. The World Health Organization declined to answer earlier this week when asked if it had seen any data pointing to the efficacy of the Russian vaccines.
Earlier this year, the U.S., U.K. and Canada accused Russia of hacking into international institutions to steal Covid-19 vaccine information. Russia denied the accusations.
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Russia, which earlier this year registered the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, has recorded more than 845,000 cases since the pandemic began. Only the U.S., Brazil and India have seen more. The official death toll stands at more than 14,000.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, or RDIF, this week said Russian officials are taking all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the vaccine, and said he had taken it to show his confidence in it. The vaccine will be conditionally registered with the Health Ministry, he said, a measure that allows for a third test while it is being used medically and for its withdrawal from use if needed.
RDIF is developing and producing the vaccine with the Gamaleya Institute and Russian conglomerate Sistema.
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Mr. Dmitriev said Russia was in advanced talks with a handful of countries in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia to transfer the technology of the vaccine so it can be replicated elsewhere. He said clinical data would be made available to the public in early August.
Speaking to Moscow’s official Russian Gazeta earlier this month, the director of the Gamaleya Institute, Alexander Gintsburg, said that no side effects of the drug had been observed in the first round of testing apart from cold symptoms and redness at the site of injection.
The military has been involved in trial runs of vaccines, and in early June, the Russian military isolated 45 servicemen and five servicewomen after giving them the vaccine. Dr. Gintsburg publicly thanked the Russian armed forces in June for helping in testing.
Write to Thomas Grove at [email protected]
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