AS countries race to produce the first coronavirus vaccine, Russia’s claims that it has approved such a vaccine have been met with serious scepticism — and for good reason. Russia announced this week that the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been given the green signal for extensive use and that the country was forging ahead with mass manufacturing and immunisation plans to kick off vaccination as early as October. President Vladimir Putin said the locally developed vaccine was given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans, but that it had purportedly passed all the required checks. To silence naysayers, he added that his daughter had already been administered a dose. Worryingly, the head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund said there are international agreements to produce 500m doses and requests for 1bn doses from 20 countries. The announcement has sparked legitimate fears among experts, who said the Russian vaccine has bypassed ‘phase 3’ — a crucial trial stage which mass-tests an under-research vaccine on thousands of people to observe its efficacy. Professors and medical experts from reputable institutions have expressed concern over several aspects of this vaccine, and called into question the process through which it was approved. Some fear it is difficult to know how safe or effective it will be given that the work that went into its development was not transparent. The WHO has said vaccines must go through all stages of testing before being rolled out. Multiple experts have said vaccines that have not been properly tested can be detrimental in many ways, negatively impacting health or creating a false sense of security. What is more dangerous is that they can undermine trust in all vaccines.
While the world is understandably desperate for immunisation against Covid-19 due to the colossal toll the infection has taken on all aspects of life, jumping the gun when it comes to health matters can have dangerous consequences. Countries must proceed ethically and with caution before considering the mainstreaming of such a vaccine.
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2020