MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move Moscow likened to its success in the Cold War-era space race.
The vaccine, which will be called “Sputnik V” in homage to the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, has however not yet completed its final trials.
Moscow’s decision to grant approval before then has raised concerns among some experts. Only about 10% of clinical trials are successful and some scientists fear Moscow may be putting national prestige before safety.
Putin and other officials have said it is completely safe. The president said one of his daughters had taken it as a volunteer and felt good afterwards.
“I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the necessary checks,” Putin told a government meeting.
The Russian business conglomerate Sistema has said it expects to put the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, into mass production by the end of the year.
Government officials have said it will be administered to medical personnel, and then to teachers, on a voluntary basis at the end of this month or in early September. Mass roll-out in Russia is expected to start in October.
The vaccine is administered in two doses and consists of two serotypes of a human adenovirus, each carrying an S-antigen of the new coronavirus, which enter human cells and produce an immune response.
The platform used for the vaccine was developed by Russian scientists over two decades and had formed the basis for several vaccines in the past, including those against Ebola.
Authorities hope it will allow the Russian economy, which has been battered by fallout from the virus, to return to full capacity.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, said Russia had already received foreign requests for 1 billion doses. He said the vaccine also expected to be produced in Brazil.
Dmitriev said clinical trials were expected to start soon in the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is willing to participate personally.