The world had been waiting for the first vaccine against raging coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced its arrival this week. But neither India nor rest of the world looks impressed. Why?
Acorona vaccine has arrived. Apparently. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced it himself on Tuesday. Russia has named its coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V — a reminder of the satellite race with the US decades ago. Russia had launched satellite Sputnik in 1957 before the US could do so
Putin, in a rare display, named his daughter among those who have been administered the coronavirus vaccine. Yet, the world has not shown the kind of enthusiasm that was expected for the first vaccine against Covid-19.
Even in India, which is now confirming more Covid-19 cases than other countries on a daily basis, there is not much excitement. This is despite the fact that Russia is understood to be open to supply the vaccine to India, and that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has just returned from that country.
Russia has registered the vaccine after its health ministry gave approval for the same. Putin, in his speech, said the vaccine passed all mandatory bio-safety tests. Mass production of the vaccine is expected to begin in eight weeks. Russian media reported that the coronavirus vaccine would be available for other countries from January 2021.
But are there buyers?
It is not yet clear if other countries are actually interested in placing orders with Russia or prefer waiting for other vaccine candidates to complete their trials.
REASONS FOR DOUBT
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said they don’t have enough information about the Russian vaccine to evaluate its potency against a raging Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, the WHO had requested Russia to release its coronavirus vaccine trial data so that it could be examined by experts.
Russia began the first phase trial of Sputnik V in the second half of June. Some vaccine candidates in China, the US and Europe had already launched their first phase by then. These vaccine candidates have not yet finished their final phase of trial. Yet, a late Russian entrant claims to have completed all trials with Putin making the announcement of the first Covid-19 vaccine.
The WHO had earlier urged Russia to follow its guidelines for vaccine trial and release data at all stages. The Russian vaccine developer, Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, not released safety data of the trial phases. This had prompted the WHO not to include the Russian vaccine candidate in its list of six potential vaccines released previously.
WHY BELIEVE DOUBTERS
The Gamaleya Institute has interestingly said Russia is planning vaccine production in countries including India. The government has been cautious with its official word on the Russian vaccine but AIIMS director Randeep Guleria said, “We will have to see critically whether it is safe and effective. There should not be any side effects of the vaccine and it should provide good immunity and protection. India has the capacity for mass production of vaccine.”
The doubt has not only been raised by global experts but also within Russia. A network of leading drug manufacturing companies, Acto (Association of Clinical Trials Organisation), which is based in Moscow too has sounded a caution note.
Acto urged the Russian government to delay registration of Sputnik V until data of phase-III trials were evaluated for effectiveness against coronavirus and safety of individuals taking the vaccine.
Reports from Russia say Putin made the vaccine announcement and his government allowed its registration after a trial on only 76 people. This sample size is smaller than Patanjali’s — the Yoga trainer Ramdev-backed firm launched its immune boosting Ayurvedic drug with an initial claim of curing Covid-19 patients.
ALTERNATES TO WAIT FOR
As alternative to Russian corona vaccine Sputnik V, there are two apparently more potent candidates — one vaccine being developed by the scientists of the Oxford University, and the other by pharmaceutical firm Moderna.
On top on every expert’s mind is Oxford’s vaccine candidate. Its trial is in the third phase, in which 10,000 people are part of the experiment. More than 1,000 people had been given the vaccine shot in the first phase. Results were very impressive.
Pune-based Serum Institute has signed a deal for production of the Oxford-developed vaccine in India. This is the most-talked about vaccine candidate in India even though an indigenous candidate is present.
India’s own vaccine candidate is being developed by the Bharat Biotech. The first phase trial showed positive results. It is in second and third trial phases simultaneously.
Data of trials of these vaccine candidates are open for evaluation by experts unlike the Russian Suptnik V. This explains why countries are not making a beeline for Putin’s Sputnik V even though coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the world.