A spotlight on Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 1 Sep 2020

Health Minister Hala Zayed said that Egypt is in talks with six countries who are among the early candidates to produce a coronavirus vaccine


This week Egyptian government officials said that Egypt would make sure to provide any reliable vaccines against the new coronavirus once one is available, tested and proven.

Health Minister Hala Zayed said that Egypt is in talks with six countries who are among the early candidates to produce a coronavirus vaccine, to ensure that Egypt is among the first countries to access this vaccine.

A government official said that the vaccine that Russia had said that it has produced is on the list, but that Egypt would wait for sufficient confirmation that it works well enough and is safe enough before booking its batches.

Russia announced in August that it had created a two-phase vaccine that works well against COVID-19. The vaccine was registered prior to completing stage three of clinical trials, which raised some concerns about its potential safety.

At a press conference last week, the scientific research lab and the pharmaceutical company responsible for the adenovirus vaccine said they were confident that they are on the right track.

According to the information shared in the press conference, the new vaccine is a two-injection process, each taken 21 days apart. The basic idea of its technique is to better equip the human body to evenly produce the necessary antibodies to stop COVID-19 before it causes organ failure. This results if the vierus manages to trick the immune system to delay its response, which then causes an excessive release of antibodies that harms the organs without controlling the virus itself.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, and the Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, have dubbed their new product the Sputnik V vaccine.

This week, according to a press release, a previously planned post-registration, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicentre clinical study of the efficacy, immunogenicity and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine will begin in Russia, simultaneously with the vaccination of volunteers from risk groups. More than 40,000 people will take part in the study at more than 45 medical centres.

And while the researchers and producers defended their work against scepticism over the limited volume of clinical trials prior to the registration of the new vaccine, they said that, inevitably, the technique used in this new vaccine is an upgrade of previous work that has been adopted for other adenovirus vaccines.

They argued that the US army, from 1971 to the present day, has widely used human adenovirus vaccines, and that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved human adenovirus vaccines in 2011. They also said that an anti-cancer drug based on human adenoviral vectors has been used to treat more than 30,000 patients in China.

They argued that this new “sophisticated technology” would help produce vaccines for future viruses that might arise as a result of expanding contact between humans and wild animals.

According to the director of the Gamaleya institute, Alexander Gintsbrug, the institute used two human adenoviruses serotypes, number 5 (Ad5) and number 26 (Ad26), which has a clear advantage over the one-vector approach used by other developers.

He added that human adenoviral vectors are being used in the development of vaccines against the coronavirus by the world's leading pharmaceutical companies.

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, said that, in a response to a flurry of questions, the bodies have launched a website to provide information on the history and testing of the vaccine -- sputnikvaccine.com.

At a joint press conference conducted by Dmitriev and Gintsbrug via videoconference upon the registration of the vaccine, they indicated interest from several countries in the vaccine, and spoke of possible cooperation with several pharmaceutical companies around the world to produce and distribute it.

Meanwhile, in an interview on Egyptian channel DMC, Rana ElHaggie, a WHO official, said that the company that is producing the new vaccine has considerable pharmaceutical credibility but that the third level of testing on the vaccine is still underway and caution should still prevail.

On Monday, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko announced that the first batches of the vaccine will begin delivery in September. 

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