Countries around the world have been working tirelessly to find a vaccine for COVID-19. The World Health Organization keeps a list of trials across the globe, from the University of Oxford to the Wuhan institute of Biological products, tracking each stage these trials are in, from phase I to phase III. One institute, the Gamaleya institute in Moscow, is in phase I of their trials according to WHO.
The New York Times, however, reported on Tuesday morning that the Gamaleya institute has accepted their version of the vaccine for official use. Russian president Vladimir Putin first broke the news to his cabinet Tuesday morning.
With over 20 million cases worldwide, this is a major breakthrough for the world, and serves as a beacon of hope to governments who have struggled to contain the amount of cases and deaths from COVID-19. Putin, in the Tuesday morning meeting, also congratulated the scientists for “this first, very important step for our country, and generally for the whole world.” Russian minister of health Mikhail Murashko hopes for a fall campaign to give out mass vaccinations, targeting October to start giving treatments to teachers and other essential workers.
Despite this groundbreaking news, many are opposed to the methods that Russia have used to get this vaccine approved. As stated, WHO keeps a list of trials being conducted of the virus. However, Gamaleya institute are only in phase I of their trials, which means they have only tested the drug on a small group of individuals to see if they were harmed by the drug and how the immune system reacted to it. Completely skipping the last two phases limits the knowledge of the drug. By not going through phase II and III, scientists are left not knowing if the vaccine actually prevents an infection and other side effects that may have not been picked up by the smaller group trials.
Also, many feel that Putin sees the advantage that an approved vaccine can have on the popularity of his administration at this moment. A New York Times article written in June, Putin has been losing his “aura” in the country with his approval rating taking its first hit in 2018 by dropping from 80% to 63% in 2019. Although it has gone up to 65% in 2020 he has still struggled to regain the confidence of the Russian people. Critics believe that this may be a move for Putin and his administration to gain back even more public support.
No matter the potential motivations behind releasing the vaccine without going through phase II and III, this could be a major step in the quest for a universal vaccine if it is successful. However, the politicization of this pandemic by the Russian government could do more harm to the Russian people.