What you need to know:
- It could mean that Moscow has edged ahead of Beijing, where the virus began and where initial studies were conducted, as well as other countries like India, the US and the UK.
- But viral vaccines often take months or years to develop, so how did Moscow manage to strike gold so soon?
The Russian government on Tuesday raced ahead of the pack by announcing registration of a vaccine against Covid-19, even though it is yet to be trialed beyond its borders.
The details of the vaccine, known as ‘Sputnik V’, were announced during a meeting of senior government officials chaired by Russian leader Vladmir Putin, who declared a near-victory against the pandemic.
“In my opinion, a huge contribution has been made to the victory of humankind over the novel coronavirus,” Putin said.
It could mean that Moscow has edged ahead of Beijing, where the virus began and where initial studies were conducted, as well as other countries like India, the US and the UK.
Russian Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko said: “A number of countries are already showing interest in it.” Other reports indicated as many as 20 countries had ordered a billion doses.
But viral vaccines often take months or years to develop, so how did Moscow manage to strike gold so soon?
Russian Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko told a gathering of senior government officials, including President Putin, that the country already had "experience and well-established technology for the manufacture of adenovirus vectors."
In microbiology, adenoviruses are those that infect airways, urinary, respiratory, the digestive system or eyes. Their presence in the body is characterised by high fever, and sometimes coughs or a running stomach. Vectors on the other hand are specific viruses that can introduce new genes when they infect a cell. Scientists modify such viruses so that while they can introduce new genes, the person inoculated with the dose cannot fall sick.
As for Russian Sputnik V, it works by forming stable immunity against the disease, according to President Putin.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has received the news with caution though, especially since it had not listed Russia’s vaccine among those approved for wider trialing.
The study began at the Gamaleya National Research Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology, a premier Russian health ministry research institute.
The centre had previously studied a vaccine for Ebola, and another for MERS-Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
“Scientists at the Gamaleya Centre conducted the first successful experiments to develop gene therapy drugs back in the 1990s. Due to further development of this project, they created a universal platform for the development of vaccines against various infectious diseases including dangerous ones,” Murashko said.
At least six vaccines were already at different stages of development, the Minister said.
Reportedly, scientists used the weakened coronavirus DNA in the lab. When injected into the body in small amounts, the cells respond by building an army of ‘soldiers’, commonly known as anti-bodies.
Alexander Gintsburg, the lead scientist behind the trials, said the weakened virus was not harmful to humans even though candidates in the trials initially showed high fever after taking shots.
'No serious side effects'
Trials for the vaccine were held at the Sechenov University and the Burdenko Military Hospital. All volunteers reportedly developed high titres of Covid-19 anti-bodies, “while none of them had any serious complications or side effects.”
“Based on the analysis of clinical data, experts from the healthcare ministry issued a conclusion, and today a decision is made on granting state registration for the vaccine to prevent the novel coronavirus, developed by the Gamaleya Centre.”
Officials say the vaccine, named after Russia’s seminal moon-landing vessel, will be re-trialed on several thousand people to clear out safety issues.
The centre will concurrently manufacture the vaccine alongside Russian pharmaceutical company BinnoPharm.
In a speech during the announcement, Mr Putin proudly acknowledged that his country had become the first in the world to develop and register a Covid-19 vaccine.
“I hope the work of our foreign colleagues will also make progress, and there will be a lot of medicines and vaccines on the global market that can be used,” he said in a speech posted on the Kremlin website on Tuesday.
“The main thing is to ensure unconditional safety and effectiveness of this vaccine in future.”