Aug 11, 2020 - Health

Why you should be skeptical of Russia's coronavirus vaccine claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends by a video conference
Photo: Alexey Druzhini/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that his country has registered a coronavirus vaccine and said that one of his daughters has already been inoculated, AP reports.

Why it matters: Scientists around the world are skeptical about Russia's claims. There is no published scientific data to back up Putin's claims that Russia has a viable vaccine — or that it produces any sort of immunity without significant side effects.

  • A Russian vaccine has not gone through any phase three trials, which are lengthy and involve thousands of participants for testing.
  • Experts caution that introducing a vaccine to the population without widespread testing could have serious negative consequences, including unexpected side effects or simply undermining public trust in their efficacy.

What he said: "I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity, and I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests," Putin told a news conference.

  • He claimed his daughter is "feeling well and has high number of antibodies."

The state of play: The vaccine race has become a competition between rival global powers. Getting the first viable coronavirus vaccine would be a boon for Russia's international prestige, which Putin is desperate to bolster.

  • According to the U.S, U.K. and Canada, hackers linked to Russian military intelligence have attempted to steal vaccine research in order to aid their own efforts.
  • Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb tweeted that the announcement "may be another effort to stoke doubts or goad [the U.S.] into forcing early action on our vaccines." He also told CNBC that he "wouldn't take it."

The big picture: There are three vaccines worldwide — one each from the U.S., U.K. and China — that have entered or are headed toward phase three trials.

  • There are at least 16 other vaccines currently in clinical trials in Australia, France, Germany, India, Russia, South Korea, the U.K., the U.S. and China.
  • Experts are increasingly confident that it's no longer a question of if but when vaccines will eventually be available.
  • But they caution that we won't know how effective they are in protecting against COVID-19 — and for how long — until after phase three trials are completed.
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