With ‘Sputnik V’ vaccine, Russia takes the first shot at Covid-19

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on August 11, 2020

Scientific community cautious on safety and efficacy features

In a development no less dramatic than the global lockdown triggered by a novel coronavirus, Russia has claimed to be the first country to have a Covid-19 vaccine.

And no less than the Russian President’s daughter is reported to have been given the vaccine, foreign-media reports said, quoting Vladimir Putin.

“I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks,” a Reuters report quoted Putin as saying.

The “Sputnik V” vaccine, as it is being called, was developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute and has got regulatory approvals within two months of clinical trials on humans. The preventive drug will reportedly be used for mass vaccination, even as late stage trials get underway.



Global response

The global scientific community has been muted in its response to the Russian vaccine, since little information about it is publicly available. It does not feature on the vaccine landscape published by the World Health Organization.

The Russian vaccine comes even as companies and governments from across the globe power ahead with research and “at risk” manufacturing efforts to have a Covid-19 vaccine for human use as soon as possible.

Vaccine candidates from the United Kingdom’s Oxford University-AstraZeneca combine, United States’ Moderna Inc, and China’s Sinovac are just the front-runners. And these vaccine-candidates are in late-stage human trials, involving about 30,000 people, with their research milestones being routinely published and put through scientific scrutiny.

Vaccine expert Vipin M Vashishtha says that at least a six-month study is required to understand safety and efficacy of the Russian vaccine.

“Little is known on the antibody protection it provides and for how long. Is it a single or double dose vaccine? Is it a live vector vaccine, etc.,” says Vashishtha, a former convenor of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics’ (IAP) committee on immunisation.

“It is a peculiar virus and could even trigger an immune response by the body to levels that can be harmful,” he cautioned.

“Cautiously optimistic” about the vaccine, Shashank Joshi, member of Maharashtra’s Covid task-force, says Russia had always been ahead in the race. It now remains to be seen whether the vaccine is safe and effective for a long time.

“In the Covid landscape, lots of things have been unpredictable and fast-tracked,” he says, responding to queries on whether the Russian vaccine had short-cut protocols. “We don’t have clarity because there is no data published in the English language,” he says, adding however that flu vaccines taken every year are developed in six weeks.



Positive sign

Alok Roy, Chair, FICCI Health Services Committee and Chairman of Medica Group of Hospitals, says the news is good “because it shows the virus can be broken. In the darkness of corona, someone has lit a matchstick.”

To those critical of the vaccine and its fast-tracked timeline, he responds: “We knew little of the coronavirus when it emerged, but we learnt as we went along. Similarly, the vaccine too will evolve. Fewer people will die of a vaccine than of the virus.”

Published on August 11, 2020

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