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Is the Russian vaccine a successful cure for COVID-19?

Update

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed to prevent people from getting the disease, not to treat or cure patients who already have the disease. Many experts continue to caution that a vaccine may not be widely available until 2021, which would already be record-breaking timing for vaccine development, manufacturing and distribution. In the summer of 2020, Russia's Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University announced human clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 18 people vaccinated on June 18 and 20 people vaccinated on June 23. Russia's initial announcements of their human clinical trials were accompanied by projections that the vaccine could be distributed in August and mass produced by private corporations in September 2020. Health experts responded with cautions about how there are many challenges in scaling up from a vaccine that has been tested on just a few dozen people in one country to a commercially available vaccine that is available and suitable for millions of diverse people around the world. In August 2020, President Vladimir V. Putin announced that Russia approved its first COVID-19 vaccine, although global health authorities warned that the vaccine has not yet completed important late-stage clinical trials with larger numbers of people to determine the vaccine's safety and effectiveness. The first approved Russian vaccine, called Gam-COVID-Vac Lyo, was registered by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology at the Health Ministry of the Russian Federation for a combined phase 1 and 2 trial. Public health experts have been concerned that skipping phase 3 clinical trials and rushing vaccine approval can potentially endanger people. Russia's first approved vaccine is now being offered outside of trials in small quantities to people at higher risk of infection, such as healthcare workers. In September 2020, the head of Rospotrebnadzor, a Russian agency regulating health care, announced that Russian researchers have completed early clinical trials of a second vaccine, which uses proteins that mimic those in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This differs from the first approved vaccine in Russia, which uses common cold viruses. Beyond the Russian vaccine trials, there are several human clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine candidates happening around the world, with some trials involving hundreds or thousands of people over observation periods of many months. Rigorous clinical trials are important to understand whether vaccine candidates are safe and without major negative side effects, as well as whether vaccine candidates are effective and can actually provide immunity for long periods of time.

This article was published on
October 8, 2020

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What our experts say

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed to prevent people from getting the disease, not to treat or cure patients who already have the disease. Many experts continue to caution that a vaccine may not be widely available until 2021, which would already be record-breaking timing for vaccine development, manufacturing and distribution.

In the summer of 2020, Russia's Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University announced human clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 18 people vaccinated on June 18 and 20 people vaccinated on June 23. Russia's initial announcements of their human clinical trials were accompanied by projections that the vaccine could be distributed in August and mass produced by private corporations in September 2020. Health experts responded with cautions about how there are many challenges in scaling up from a vaccine that has been tested on just a few dozen people in one country to a commercially available vaccine that is available and suitable for millions of diverse people around the world.

In August 2020, President Vladimir V. Putin announced that Russia approved its first COVID-19 vaccine, although global health authorities warned that the vaccine has not yet completed important late-stage clinical trials with larger numbers of people to determine the vaccine's safety and effectiveness. The first approved Russian vaccine, called Gam-COVID-Vac Lyo, was registered by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology at the Health Ministry of the Russian Federation for a combined phase 1 and 2 trial. Public health experts have been concerned that skipping phase 3 clinical trials and rushing vaccine approval can potentially endanger people. Russia's first approved vaccine is now being offered outside of trials in small quantities to people at higher risk of infection, such as healthcare workers.

In September 2020, the head of Rospotrebnadzor, a Russian agency regulating health care, announced that Russian researchers have completed early clinical trials of a second vaccine, which uses proteins that mimic those in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This differs from the first approved vaccine in Russia, which uses common cold viruses.

Beyond the Russian vaccine trials, there are several human clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine candidates happening around the world, with some trials involving hundreds or thousands of people over observation periods of many months. Rigorous clinical trials are important to understand whether vaccine candidates are safe and without major negative side effects, as well as whether vaccine candidates are effective and can actually provide immunity for long periods of time.

Context and background

Vaccines are not medicines that can treat or cure diseases, as they are made for prevention. Vaccines contain a weakened, killed, or partial form of the same germs that cause the disease in order to stimulate the body's immune response to develop immunity without having to get sick. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that were around 160 vaccines for COVID-19 in development as of July 6, 2020, with at least 21 vaccine candidates under clinical evaluation and 139 under pre-clinical evaluation. This included U.K.'s Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine candidate in phase 3 clinical trials with 5,000 people in Brazil and 4,000 people in the U.K., Australia's University of Queensland vaccine candidate that started phase 1 clinical trials with 120 people to be observed over 12 months (including a proportion of people assigned to receive a placebo for comparison), the U.S.'s Inovio Pharmaceuticals vaccine candidate that completed phase 1 clinical trials with 40 people (reports suggest 94% had "overall immune responses at week six after two doses" and after eight weeks the vaccine candidate was considered "safe and well-tolerated with no serious adverse events"), and China's CanSino Biologics vaccine candidate that completed phase 2 clinical trials with 508 people and began phase 3 clinical trials with 40,000 people from multiple countries on September 15, 2020.

Resources

  1. Vaccines: The Basics (U.S. CDC)
  2. Russia Coronavirus Vaccine Could Be Distributed Next Month (Newsweek)
  3. China's CanSino in talks for COVID-19 vaccine Phase III trial overseas (Reuters)
  4. Phase III trial of a COVID-19 vaccine of adenovirus vector in adults 18 years old and above (ClinicalTrials.gov)
  5. First data for Moderna Covid-19 vaccine show it spurs an immune response (STAT News)
  6. Russia approves coronavirus vaccine before completing tests (NYT)
  7. A second vaccine nears approval in Russia (NYT)

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