Skepticism Abounds As Russia Announces Coronavirus Vaccine

Aug 11, 2020
Originally published on August 11, 2020 8:35 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, announced today that Russia is the first country to register a vaccine against the coronavirus. But there is a lot of skepticism. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: President Putin was working from his home outside Moscow when he addressed his Cabinet ministers on a large teleconference screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "As far as I know," he said, "the world's first COVID-19 vaccine was registered this morning."

Putin was referring to a bureaucratic procedure by the Russian health ministry, which registered one of several Russian vaccines still under development. Although Russia's official number of new coronavirus infections is steadily decreasing, the country still has the fourth-highest caseload globally. Now Putin wants to replace negative headlines with a scientific breakthrough reminiscent of the space race during the Cold War. The new drug is called Sputnik, the name of the world's first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "I hope the work of our foreign colleagues will also move along," Putin told his ministers. So far, the vaccine, based on harmless cold viruses, has been tested on several dozen people, including military personnel and researchers themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "One of my daughters has tested the vaccine," Putin said, "and all she experienced was a slightly elevated temperature and feels just fine."

Putin said the vaccine forms lasting immunity and had passed all the necessary checks. That's an exaggeration, of course, since the vaccine still has to go through phase 3 trials, which will test it much more widely. On Monday, a Russian association of research organizations asked the health ministry to delay the vaccine's registration until after phase 3. The researchers said not even 100 people had been tested and that the vaccine's early registration doesn't make Russia a leader, it just exposes end consumers to unnecessary danger.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.