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International News

Russia Wins Race to Market First Coronavirus Vaccine

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Russia Wins Race to Market First Coronavirus Vaccine

2020-08-12 14:42:10

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Vaccine being administered (Image source: Public domain)

Russian President Vladimir Putin made news this week by announcing that his nation was the first to market a coronavirus vaccine. But how did Russia beat everyone else to this, and will it be effective after just so short a time?

Moscow's Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology created the vaccine that has been named Sputnik-V after the 1957 rocket that launched the first satellite into orbit.

Sputnik-V has been approved for use — kind of. The vaccine is based on a 2015 vaccine that was created to fight ebola. Those who get the vaccine are required to get two injections to have immunity from the coronavirus for up to two years.

However, the vaccine still has not gone through the third phase of clinical trials for it to be distributed to the general population. Putin expects it to be available for everyone in early 2021.

"A vaccine against coronavirus has been registered for the first time in the world this morning, said Putin on state TV. "I know that it works quite effectively; it forms a stable immunity."

The head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, explained that clinical trials were set to begin on August 12 in multiple countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There may be some people who are vaccinated before the clinical trial has completed. Russian officials would like to start giving the vaccine to doctors and other frontline workers by the end of August.

"We expect tens of thousands of volunteers to be vaccinated within the next months," said Dmitriev. "So people outside of clinical trials will have access to the vaccine in August, and some, already on the massive scale, in October."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will need to approve Sputnik-V before it can be cleared for use in the United States.

With this vaccine about to begin clinical trials at the end of the month and being cleared for the general population in 2021, how does that timeline compare to the U.S. vaccine?

The U.S. has several vaccines it's following, but the one most often discussed is the Moderna vaccine. Donald Trump said recently it would be ready to go by Election Day, but experts say there is no way it will happen.

The Moderna vaccine began its Phase 3 clinical trials on July 27, the first vaccine to do so, even beating Sputnik-V.

Still, Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist at Baylor College of Medicine and a CNN medical analyst, said, "There's no way. There's just no way," it will be ready by Election Day.

Yet, Trump said he was "optimistic" a vaccine would be ready by that date. "I believe we'll have the vaccine before the end of the year, certainly, but around that date, yes. I think so," he said last Thursday.

CNN received part of an email Moderna sent on Friday to the principal investigators of its vaccine trials. It says 4,536 study subjects have enrolled in the clinical trials so far. The intention is to enroll 30,000, with the company saying it's "on track to complete enrollment in September."

Even if it reaches that goal, it's still not possible to have it ready to go by November 3. After all subjects are enrolled and receive the first shot, they have to wait 28 days before receiving a second shot. If they were enrolled in September, they wouldn't receive the second injection until the end of October. Then they have to wait two weeks for it to become fully effective, placing it past Election Day.

Following that period, researchers have to wait to see who gets sick with COVID-19. Half of the participants will be given the Moderna vaccine, and the other half are getting a placebo. Participants and doctors do not know who is getting which version of the injection.

"Maybe by Inauguration Day we might have a glimmer of whether the vaccine is working and be able to assess its safety," said Hotez. However, he is predicting the results from the study will be available in the first quarter of 2021 at the earliest. 

Basically, this puts Sputnik-V and Moderna on the same timetable. Yet, both leaders are pushing it to make it seem like they will be beating everyone else. Putin and Trump appear to be cut of the same cloth.

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