Russia has announced that mass vaccinations are planned for early October, which would make it the first country to approve and distribute a coronavirus vaccine, but scientists are warning against the move.
The head of Russia’s Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, who sponsored the Gamaleya Research Institute’s development of a vaccine, says that a vaccination may be approved in just days, before scientists have completed a three phase study.
“I’m worried that Russia is cutting corners so that the vaccine that will come out may be not just ineffective, but also unsafe,” a global public health law expert at Georgetown University, Lawrence Gostin, told the Associated Press Friday. “It doesn’t work that way. … Trials come first. That’s really important.”
Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko announced that people who are considered to be a part of the “risk group,” like healthcare workers, could be offered the vaccine as soon as this month.
Murashko did not clarify if the healthcare workers receiving the vaccination would be a part of the Phase Three study.
U.S. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has warned against rushing to find a vaccination without the necessary precautions and studies being taken.
“I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing a vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone, because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing I think is problematic at best,” Fauci said last week.
The U.S. has accused both Russia and China of attempted espionage and theft in the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
The U.S. Justice Departement indicted two Chinese nationals in late July for working with the Chinese intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS), after they were caught hacking U.S. and international data bases containing information about vaccine development.
One of the companies targeted by the hackers was Moderna, who received half a billion in funding from the U.S. government for the development of a vaccine. They are expected to launch a 30,000-person clinical trial this month
China has denied all accusations.
“Recently so-called sources from the U.S. government have been accusing China of hacking to steal technology and data of U.S. vaccine research, but there has been no evidence whatsoever,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, said last week.
Britain, Canada and the U.S. have also accused the Russian Kremlin of using hackers to break into databases to steal intelligence on COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement following the British National Cyber Security Centre advisory detailing recent Russian hacking.
“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health,” he added.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova has promised to initiate “industrial production” of a vaccine by September, which will allow for mass vaccinations by October.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.