Russia has become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a vaccine against Covid-19, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday and will begin mass production and immunization of key workers in the next few weeks.
The move, the first time a Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for civilian use, comes after just two months of human trials and underscores Moscow’s desire to rush the vaccine through testing and trial procedures at breakneck speed in an attempt to beat western pharmaceutical companies.
Vaccinations could begin as soon as this month, Moscow said, but some experts have cast doubt on Russia’s ability to develop a suitable vaccine so fast, given that trials to ensure the safety and efficacy of such drugs normally take years. “As far as I know, this morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the coronavirus infection has been registered here,”
Mr. Putin said on Tuesday at a televised meeting with government officials. “I know that it works quite effectively, it forms a stable immunity,”
Mr. Putin said. “I repeat: it has passed all the necessary tests.” Mr. Putin said his own daughter had been administered the vaccine and, despite a day-long rise in her temperature, felt fine. “Afterwards there was no effect, she feels good,” he added. The vaccine — named Sputnik — was developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute in Moscow and financed by Russia’s sovereign wealth fund. Trials of the vaccine will continue even as it begins to be distributed to the public.
Vaccinations for medical workers are expected to begin at the end of the month or in early September, said Tatiana Golikova, deputy prime minister. Moscow had previously vowed it would win the race to develop and approve an effective vaccine.
The government has ripped up typical rules for the length of trials in a bid to get the vaccine ready for use.
Research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, and state agencies around the world are working on more than 100 potential vaccines to protect against Covid-19, which has infected almost 20m people and killed more than 700,000.
Russia’s treatment is an adenovirus-based vaccine, similar to others being developed including the one being worked on by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, the pharmaceuticals group.
Moscow said its vaccine used two different adenovirus vectors across two injections, boosting its effectiveness.
Foreign countries had already shown an interest in receiving shipments of the vaccine, Mikhail Murashko, Russia’s health minister, said at the meeting. “Results [from clinical trials] proved the high efficiency and safety of the vaccine,” Mr. Murashko said. “All volunteers developed high levels of Covid-19 antibodies. At the same time, none of them demonstrated serious complications from the immunization.”
He added: “The phased application of the vaccine in civilian circulation will begin. First of all, we consider it necessary to offer vaccination to those whose work is related to communicating with infected people. These are medical workers and those on whom the health of children depends: our teachers.”