CNN has learned that Russia intends to approve the world’s first coronavirus vaccine in less than two weeks, despite concerns about its safety, effectiveness and that the country has cut essential corners in development.
Russian officials tell CNN they are working towards a date of August 10 or earlier for approval of the vaccine, which has been created by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute.
“It’s a Sputnik moment,” said Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is financing Russian vaccine research, referring to the successful 1957 launch of the world’s first satellite by the Soviet Union.
“Americans were surprised when they heard Sputnik’s beeping. It’s the same with this vaccine. Russia will have got there first,” he added.
But Russia has released no scientific data on its vaccine testing and CNN is unable to verify its claimed safety or effectiveness. Critics say the country’s push for a vaccine comes amid political pressure from the Kremlin, which is keen to portray Russia as a global scientific force. There are also wide concerns human testing of the vaccine is incomplete.
Russians scientists say the vaccine has been quick to develop because it is a modified version of a vaccine already created to fight against other diseases. Russia’s defense ministry says that Russian soldiers served as volunteers in human trials.
In recorded comments provided to CNN, Alexander Ginsburg, the director of the project says he has already injected himself with the vaccine.
Russian officials say the drug is being fast-tracked through registration because of the global pandemic and Russia’s own severe coronavirus problem. Russia now has more than 800,000 confirmed cases.
“Our scientists focused not on being the first but on protecting people,” said Dmitriev, whose government fund is helping finance Russia’s vaccine program.
“Russia marshaled its leadership position in vaccine development and its proven Ebola and MERS vaccine platform to bring the first safe and efficient solution to the world’s biggest problem,” he told CNN previously.
The World Health Organization says there is no approved vaccine for MERS.