Russian coronavirus vaccine tested as ‘safe’, but not proven effective in preventing Covid-19

“Breaking news: Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine 100% successfully tested ready for use,” reads the headline of an article published on the Nigerian website AfroMambo on 13 July 2020 and posted on Facebook.

Several other posts claim that clinical trials of a vaccine against the new coronavirus have been successfully completed in Russia, with the vaccine found to be safe and effective.

Afromambo says Russia’s Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University announced it had successfully tested a possible Covid-19 vaccine on volunteers. 

“Following the completion of clinical trials of the vaccine, RDIF and Alium are ready to launch mass-production for the fastest possible vaccination of Russian citizens,” the article says.

A vaccine is a medicine that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight a specific infectious disease, such as Covid-19.

Has Russia successfully tested an effective Covid-19 vaccine that is ready for use? We checked. 

Vaccine ‘safe for patients’ but further testing needed

AfroMambo’s headline claims the vaccine is “ready for use”, but the article itself says there are still plans for further testing and development of the vaccine.

On 13 July Sechenov University released a statement about the vaccine trial, saying 38 healthy volunteers had been recruited. The first group of 18 were vaccinated on 18 June and the second group of 20 on 23 June. 

The main purpose of the trial was to find out if the vaccine was “safe for the patients”. It determined that it was. The statement adds: “Participants will remain under observation for half a year, to monitor whether they should develop any health issues due to the vaccination in the long run.”

The university plans to continue testing in further clinical studies. 

Three phases of vaccine clinical trials

In a 13 July press conference, South African health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize was asked about the Russian vaccine. 

“This is a trial that has gone through one phase,” he said. “The whole phase went very well but it does not mean that it is a complete success. It means it’s still going to go to another phase of the trial.” 

Vaccine development is a long and complex process that can last up to 15 years, according to the History of Vaccines, a educational portal run by the US College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

There are three phases of clinical trials vaccines need to undergo before they can be approved for general use. The first phase uses a small group of 20 to 80 volunteers to “assess the safety of the candidate vaccine and to determine the type and extent of immune response that the vaccine provokes”.

If the first phase is successful, researchers move on to phase two, which involves several hundred participants. Phase three has thousands of volunteers

Phase four of a trial is optional. It’s done after a vaccine is released in cases where the manufacturer wants to test further for safety, efficacy and other uses. 

At this stage it is not clear when Sechenov University will begin the second phase of its coronavirus vaccine trials.

Russian vaccine one of several being tested

The World Health Organization says no vaccines have yet been proven to prevent Covid-19. But 23 candidate vaccines are in various stages of clinical development. 

Clinical trials are underway in the US, the UK, South Africa and Brazil

At least one of the vaccines, produced by Oxford University, is already on its third phase of clinical trials. 

A Russian university did report that it had successfully completed the first phase of testing a vaccine for Covid-19. But the vaccine is not ready for use and still needs to undergo extensive further testing. – Naledi Mashishi

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