The race for a Coronavirus vaccine is approaching its last lap. And instead of international collaboration in making one, in most cases, it's a battle to bring the first vaccine out. As it stands, it's a four-way race with the U.S., U.K., Russia and China leading the field.
While the world has been optimistic about the vaccine candidate from the U.K., — jointly developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca — Russia has claimed to have completed one, trumping even China which has over dozens of candidates in development.
It should be good news when the world is facing a second wave of the virus that has already infected over 17.6 million and has killed nearly 680,000 people. But American infectious disease specialist, Dr Anthony Fauci, has warned about the vaccine's safety.
"Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic, at best. I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone," Dr Fauci told during a Congressional hearing in the U.S. on Friday (July 31).
Russia's Sputnik Moment
Russia, which joined the COVID-19 battle later than the world, has seen over 800,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, it has not one but two vaccines all but ready for distribution. But the country's claims should be taken with a pinch of salt. One of the two has been developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow which aims to get its vaccine approved by as early as August 10.
But the vaccine was tested on only 38 people in Phase I and II combined as per Elena Smolyarchuk, Chief Researcher of Sechenov University Center for Clinical Research, which collaborated with Gamaleya for the vaccine. And that's about it. No other data has been released so far.
The other one which is being developed by Vector Institute is in Phase III of human trials and aims for mass distribution by September. But again, no data has been released for peer review, thus, bringing in safety issues of the vaccines.
However, Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, which is sponsoring the Gamaleya trials, said that it was another "Sputnik moment." Like Russia trumped the U.S. launching its first satellite Sputnik in 1957, the country has done it again with the Coronavirus vaccine.
He also claimed that many countries have already approached Russia for the vaccine while some American companies too have made inquiries.
"Americans were surprised when they heard Sputnik's beeping. It's the same with this vaccine. Russia will have got there first. Our scientists focused not on being the first but on protecting people," Dmitriev told CNN, adding that the data will be available this month (August 2020).
Vaccines Developed in China
China seemed to have been ahead of the curve with over a dozen of potential vaccine candidates in development. But unlike Russia, China hasn't yet boasted about its vaccines. Instead, it has approved CanSino Biologics' Ad5-nCoV vaccine for limited use in the Chinese military.
China has to look abroad for human trials now. The vaccine candidates by Sinovac and Sinopharm are undergoing final Phase III trials in Pakistan, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. Even the Head of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gao Fu claimed to have injected with one of them to show its safety.
But China too has a sketchy history when it comes to vaccines. In 2018, China administered a DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine in 200,000 children but authorities had to recall as it was deemed ineffective. Instead, in a few cases, children suffered paralysis.
Hence, until the data is out for the world to see, both Russian and Chinese vaccine candidates are yet to be termed safe and ready for mass use, at least not in Western countries, which have stringent safety controls. Instead, Oxford-AstraZeneca is still the one to be most hopeful about besides the U.S. made Moderna, which has entered Phase III trials.
"We are going very quickly. I do not believe that there will be vaccines, so far ahead of us, that we will have to depend on other countries to get us vaccines," Dr Fauci said.