Russia has recently become the first country in the world to officially register a COVID-19 vaccine, although they have been met with a wide degree of skepticism from the international community.
Reports of the vaccine first surfaced after Russian President Vladimir Putin made an announcement in which he praised the success of the drug’s development, which he claimed effectively cured coronavirus symptoms in his own daughter. The Russian government has announced plans to start conducting vaccinations throughout their country, which will commence for doctors and other health care workers as early as this month. They have also agreed to begin mass production of the vaccine by September of this year.
Although this vaccine has already generated a great deal of enthusiasm in Russia, it still has not undergone the full extent of clinical trials that would be required for the vaccine’s use in most other countries. So far, the vaccine has passed both its phase I and phase II trials, which has proven that it does indeed trigger an immune response to the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Yet, the phase III trial, which tests if the vaccine actually prevents infection, has still not taken place. This phase of the trial would require more widespread testing and would likely take months or even years to complete. The Russian government has already committed to this process, and has agreed to begin phase III clinical trials in other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates.
Many in the international community have criticized Russia for jumping too far ahead of itself by already registering the vaccine before completing full trials, and have accused the vaccine’s release of being a political move by the Russian government. The vaccine has been officially called “Sputnik V,” which is a reference to Sputnik, the world’s first satellite which was created in the former Soviet Union. This allusion to one of Russia’s previous scientific achievements has been seen as a way to evoke the same sense of national pride that surfaced after Sputnik’s release during the Soviet era. Some worry that Russia’s push towards being the first to create the COVID-19 vaccine may cause them to overlook potential issues and side effects that could ultimately come to light during the phase III trials. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also officially stated that all vaccines should complete every stage of clinical testing before being rolled out.
Nevertheless, Russia has said they will be willing to openly share the vaccine with other countries, and that it would even allow American pharmaceutical corporations to produce the drug within the United States. There are currently nine other potential vaccines undergoing phase III trials, of which there are four in China, two in the United States, and one in the United Kingdom. Since all of these vaccines will be subject to rigorous standards as they go through this last phase of their clinical testing, officials continue to estimate that it may be at least a year until a vaccine is approved and available for international use.
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