Barely a week after Russia claimed to have developed a vaccine to fight COVID-19, it has been found that a large number of Russian elites, including politicians and business tycoons, had received the vaccine shots in April. The Russian coronavirus vaccine, developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, successfully completed its clinical trial, the Sechenov University had announced earlier this month.

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic in December last year, Russia has reported more than 771,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 12,342 deaths. In May, Gamaleya's research director Alexander Ginzburg had announced that it had developed the vaccine, which does not have any side effects. The institute's scientists tested the vaccine on animals and then on themselves, he said.

Names of Elites Not Recorded Officially

According to a report published by Bloomberg, people involved in the vaccine development revealed that top executives at companies including aluminium giant United Co. Rusal, billionaire tycoons and government officials were given the experimental vaccine shots developed in April. However, the names were not maintained in the official records of the trial program.

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COVID-19 vaccine trial (Representational picture) Pixnio.com

Despite being a legal volunteer program, the experimental shots given to several hundreds of Russian elites was kept a secret to avoid a crush of potential participants, the unnamed researcher told the outlet.

The report further claimed that even though the selection procedure of shortlisting the participants from the elite group was not clear, those who were administered the trial shots were monitored and the results recorded by the institute. RDIF chief Kirill Dmitriev told the outlet that he and his family along with a significant number of other volunteers have taken the shots.

An unnamed top executive, who received the trial shot of the vaccine, said that he has experienced no side effects, adding that he decided to risk taking the experimental shots in order to be able to live a normal life and have business meetings as usual. Few other participants reported fever and muscle aches after getting the shots, claimed the outlet.

Distribution of Russian Vaccine to Begin in September

The researchers have already started the second phase of the vaccine trial after the first one ended last week. It was conducted on a group of 40 Russian military personnel. Phase 3 of the trials is slated to begin from August 3 with participants from Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Dmitriev said that the vaccine will be distributed nationally as early as September.

The viral vector vaccine is based on human adenovirus, a common cold virus, fused with the spike protein of SARS CoV-2 to stimulate an immune response. The outlet quoted Dmitriev stating that researchers in Russia are testing two different types of adenovirus vectors in order to reduce the chances of pre-existing immunity reducing the vaccine's effectiveness.

Earlier this week several countries including Canada, US and UK had Russian hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, to be attacking academic and pharmaceutical research in order to steal the details of the COVID-19 vaccines being developed by their researchers.