Announcement of a Russian COVID-19 vaccine has experts questioning its legitimacy

On Aug. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology started their phase 3 trials of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

“I know (the vaccine) works quite effectively, helps to develop strong immunity and has gone through all the necessary tests,” Putin said in a cabinet meeting, according to the Lancet Respiratory Medical Journal.

At 1.13 million total cases, Russia sits fourth on the list detailing infection numbers worldwide, according to  The Moscow Times.

Alexander Gintsburg, head scientist at Gamaleya that helped develop the Sputnik V vaccine, said immunity from COVID-19 would depend on how the individuals would respond to both the vaccine and the infection, in an interview with The Moscow Times.

“For some, the protective level of antibodies is produced after the first vaccination and they need the second one to extend that protection,” Gintsburg stated in an interview with The Moscow Times. “They will likely be protected two weeks after the first vaccination.”

The vaccine would be administered in two stages with hopes to eliminate COVID-19 in its entirety, but there is no guarantee that it will be a permanent fix.

“If there is (an infection between the first and the second shots), (COVID-19) will occur in a weaker form,” Gintsburg said.

Many countries remain concerned about the authenticity of the data being recorded. The Lancet Respiratory Medicine Journal published a letter at the beginning of last month warning potential users of the legitimacy of the data collected amid mounting concerns.

According to the letter, volunteers who received one version of the vaccine had no change in antibody counts between 21 and 28 days after the original injection. Although Russia stated it will not release the vaccine to the public until phase 3 trials show favorable results, The Lancet claims the vaccine announcement was made with political intent rather than to help the global populace combat COVID-19.

If Sputnik V’s results are considered favorable by the Russian government, they plan to strike deals with other countries — such as Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and India — in distribution of the vaccine, according to The Wall Street Journal.

With so many countries struggling with COVID-19, political scientists worry that any country — in this case, Russia — could gain economic and political leverage to use on struggling nations.

“The view here is that the vaccine could win Russia some hearts and minds in the non-West and boost its geopolitical leverage,” said Vladimir Frolov, former senior Russian diplomat and Moscow-based political analyst, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Concern is especially great when considering developing nations, according to the WSJ. Their lack of manufacturing abilities makes the promise of a vaccine appealing, but Russian partnerships create concerning notions for Western nations.

“We will focus on saving people in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, where most of the requests come from, because these people are not thinking about politics to stifle Russia and to constrain Russia, but they want to protect their citizens,” said Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is funding the development of the vaccine, in an interview with the WSJ.

China has also begun the experimental process of creating their own vaccine by inoculating hundreds of thousands of individuals, according to the WSJ. Experts expressed wide concern that the current race for a COVID-19 vaccine could lead to a new strain if the initial vaccine proves less than 100% effective.

Because of the questionable testing procedures, American experts — such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — have indicated that it would be unlikely for the United States to use a Chinese or Russian vaccine, according to the WSJ.

“I think that would instill in the public a degree of confidence,” said Fauci in an interview with the WSJ. “We’re not cutting corners and we’re not even going to try to get a vaccine distributed unless it was clear that there was enough evidence to indicate that it’s safe and effective.”