'It's risky': Russians are divided about its poorly-tested new Covid-19 vaccine
- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that his country had approved the world's first coronavirus vaccine, and it would be available for general inoculation the January 2021.
- But the vaccine has not undergone phase-3 trials, which are deemed important to guarantee the safety of a vaccine, and can help indicate side effects.
- Insider asked Russian citizens in the cities of St. Petersburg and Pskov whether they would voluntarily take the new vaccine.
- While some said they would use the vaccine, despite the widespread concerns about its safety, many others said they would not.
- Some of those who doubted the vaccine said the risk of side effects is too high, while others gave more scientifically dubious reasons.
- Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.
President Vladimir Putin announced on Tuesday that his government had approved the world's first coronavirus vaccine for mass inoculation, amid widespread doubts over its safety and efficacy.
Despite widespread concerns that the vaccine, created by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, has not undergone phase-3 trials, Putin said the vaccine works effectively, develops stable immunity, and has gone through all the necessary tests.
Phase-3 trials are considered important to guarantee the safety of a vaccine, and usually help indicate potential side effects.
Putin added that one of his daughters has already received the vaccination, and said she has been feeling well after suffering a fever for a couple of days.
Authorities plan to begin mass-producing the substance - named Sputnik V after the first man-made satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 - as soon as possible, with a goal to start full-scale production by late August or early September, the state-run TASS news agency reported.
The vaccine is scheduled to be available to the general public on January 1, 2021, the state-run Sputnik news agency reported, citing the vaccine's registration document. Putin also mentioned the January 1 deadline, NPR reported.
Not everyone is keen on it, though.
One day before Putin's announcement, on Tuesday, a consortium of pharmaceutical and healthcare-research companies publicly called on the Russian health ministry to postpone the registration of the vaccine until phase-3 clinical testing has been completed, the independent RBK news agency reported.
In a letter cited by RBK, the Association of Clinical Trials Organisation - which consists of international companies like Bayer, AstraZeneca, and Novartis - said that Gamaleya had involved fewer than 100 people in its initial trials, even though most researchers test on several thousand people before rolling out a vaccine for mass production.
The association added that it believes that Gamaleya scientists are completing the vaccine development at breakneck speed so Russia claim victory in the global vaccine race, and this could endanger citizens' lives, according to RBK.
Insider asked several Russian citizens in the cities of St. Petersburg and Pskov, near Estonia, whether they would inoculate themselves with the Sputnik V when it is available. While some said they would vaccinate themselves with the new substance, despite concerns about its safety, many others said they would not.
Taisia Orlova, a 69-year-old in Pskov, told Insider: "I trust the vaccine. I'm glad they've hurried up to make it and register it because we have little time and people's lives are at stake.
"I'm afraid of the coronavirus especially since I have had a number of health problems, including diabetes and lung problems, in the past," she added. "I will ask to be vaccinated as soon as it is possible."
Lyudmila Vorobyova, a 72-year-old former nurse in the same city, said: "I'd get vaccinated, even now, because any vaccination is effective. I always get the flu vaccination and I can't remember when I last had the flu."
"Even if not that many people have been tested, the results are positive, which already proves the vaccine is good."
"As for the pharmaceutical companies that criticize the vaccine testing, I think it is because they haven't participated in its development and it all just about their business," she added, referring to the Association of Clinical Trials Organization's Monday letter.
Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, citizens were dubious, for a variety of reasons.
Viktor Borovikov, a 51-year-old manager, told Insider: "I wouldn't get this vaccination if it is not obligatory because I think it can be dangerous, since the vaccine has not been tested enough. There should not have been a rush to launch it without enough testing."
"Besides, in the past few years, I have lost trust in what our authorities say," he added."
Yelena Stolbova, a 46-year-old manager, echoed these remarks, saying: "I wouldn't go for this vaccine at the moment because it hasn't been tested enough and it's risky. Besides, I know from experience that Russian vaccines usually have more side effects compared to foreign ones."
Twenty-three-year-old student Roman Sergeyev said: "I wouldn't be willing to get the vaccination because I'm young, and young people normally survive Covid-19 well. I'd better just get Covid-19 and survive it instead of getting the vaccination, though I'm not afraid of vaccinations."
Though young coronavirus patients tend to recover at a higher rate than older patients, many young patients have reported experiencing symptoms for more than a month. Nearly 20% of young, healthy coronavirus patients had not yet recovered after two to three weeks, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found earlier this year.
Some gave more medically dubious reasons for not wanting to take Russia's coronavirus vaccine.
"I've already had Covid-19 in a light form, so I don't need the vaccination," Daniil Boitsov, a 21-year-old student, told Insider.
While experts say that people who have previously had the novel coronavirus may have an attenuated form of the illness upon reinfection, there is no evidence that people who have had Covid-19 in the past do not need vaccinations in the future.
Vera Smirnova, 67, also told Insider: "I don't vaccinate in general and visit doctors only in case of emergency. I think it's all about God's will. I don't trust vaccines for I know that, now and then, people get serious health complications even after flu vaccinations."
"I think Covid-19 is not studied well enough yet, and has a number of different strains, so I'm not sure the new vaccine would be effective and would not lead to side effects. I will see how the vaccination works for other people," she said.
"In fact, I'm sure that people who are in positive moods don't get infected [by the coronavirus], so the best prevention is to be positive."
Anti-vaxxers have for months spoken out against inoculating themselves with a coronavirus vaccine. Experts have said that only a vaccine can eliminate the virus and help the world return to normal.
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