Don’t expect Dr. Anthony Fauci to line up for a shot of Russia’s new coronavirus vaccine.
The top US infectious diseases expert threw cold water at Sputnik V, the name Russia named the vaccine — an homage to the Soviet Union’s first orbital satellite in 1957, when the space race was launched.
In his rush to declare victory in the COVID-19 vaccine race, President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that his country was the first to approve an inoculation.
But it was met with a resounding thud by experts who expressed doubts of its efficacy and safety.
“I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” Fauci, 79, told Deborah Roberts of ABC News for a National Geographic event to be broadcast Thursday, CNN reported.
Fauci, 79, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said having a vaccine and proving that it is safe and effective are two different things.
“We have half a dozen or more vaccines,” he said. “So if we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn’t work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that’s not the way it works.”
Fauci said that Americans must keep in mind that the US has safety and efficacy standards in place – while makers of the Russian vaccine have not yet released any data from human trials.
The World Health Organization on Tuesday said it was looking forward to reviewing details of the Russian trials, adding that it is in touch with Russian scientists and authorities, according to CNN.
There are 28 vaccines in worldwide human trials, according to WHO.
Meanwhile, other experts were more blunt than Fauci in shooting down Sputnik V.
Dr. Ohid Yaqub, a senior lecturer at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex in the UK, told The Sun that Russia’s “half-baked” vaccine could be “little better than water” so Putin could “wave the Russian flag” as Phase 3 trials were apparently skipped.
“I would hope that other countries are not drawn into such pork-barrel vaccine nationalism. The less that vaccine development looks like this, the better,” Yaqub told the outlet.
“Decision making should published, open to scrutiny, and free from flag-waving,” he added. “It’s unprecedented to completely skip a Phase 3 trial like this in modern medicine.
“What you don’t want is any sense that that risk is being taken because someone wants to wave their flag around,” Yaqub continued.
“There are other ways to control this disease without taking that risk. We’re not at the stage where we need to start giving out half-baked vaccines,” he said.
“And on the efficacy side, you’re at the stage where you might be vaccinating people with something that isn’t much better that water.”
Doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia.Russian Direct Investment Fund/AFP via Getty Images
Prof. Francois Balloux, a biologist at University College London, also slammed Putin for his “reckless and foolish” move, saying that “vaccination with an improperly tested vaccine is unethical,” the outlet reported.
“Any problem with the Russian vaccination campaign would be disastrous both through its negative effects on health, but also because it would further set back the acceptance of vaccines in the population,” Balloux told The Sun.
Added Prof. Keith Neal, an epidemiologist at the University of Nottingham: “It is not possible to know if the Russian vaccine has been shown to be effective without submission of scientific papers for analysis and then there may be problems on data quality.”
Russia pushed back Wednesday on the criticism, calling it “information warfare,” CNBC reported.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko reportedly said that allegations that the vaccine was unsafe were groundless and fueled by competition.
“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that in our opinion are completely groundless,” Murashko said, Reuters reported.
He said the vaccine, which was developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, would be administered on a voluntary basis.
“The first packages of the medical vaccine against the coronavirus infection will be received within the next two weeks, primarily for doctors,” he said.
Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund RDIF, which is backing Sputnik V, said the American criticism showed bias.
“It (the announcement) really divided the world into those countries that think it’s great news … and some of the US media and some US people that engage in major information warfare on the Russian vaccine,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”
Putin said the Health Ministry gave the green light to the vaccine after it underwent the necessary tests — and said one of his two adult daughters had been inoculated.
“We should be grateful to those who have taken this first step, which is very important for our country and the whole world,” Putin said.
No proof was provided and scientists in Russia warned that additional testing would be necessary to prove it is safe and effective.
Nevertheless, officials said vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month and mass vaccinations may begin as early as October.
Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute, said clinical trials would be published once they have been assessed by Russia’s experts.
With Post wires