Is the World’s “First Covid-19 Vaccine” from Russia Really Ready?


Is the World’s “First Covid-19 Vaccine” from Russia Really Ready?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

As the whole world reels from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, any news about progress toward developing a vaccine is greeted eagerly. On Sunday, multiple reports broke out about a vaccine candidate in Russia that passed human trials. However, the headlines were misleading. The Russian vaccine has only cleared Phase 1 of its trials, with Phase 2 set to commence today, July 13. The trials are being conducted at Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University. The vaccine candidate itself was produced by Russia’s Gamalei Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology last month.

In simple terms, Phase 1 of a vaccine trial is intended mainly to gauge the “safety and tolerability” of the vaccine in volunteers. Reports quote Alexander Lukashev, the director of the Institute of Medical Parasitology, Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases at Sechenov University, as saying, “The safety of the vaccine is confirmed. It corresponds to the safety of those vaccines that are currently on the market.”

Phase 2 is the stage of the trial where the actual efficiency and ability of the vaccine to generate an immune system response is tested. This phase begins today, and its success is not yet confirmed. Usually, there is also a Phase 3 in a vaccine trial, where a large group of several thousand volunteers is observed to see if the immune response generated by the vaccine is sufficient to fight the virus in real world situations. Phase 3 can take months to complete. However, it is unclear whether Russia will be going through Phase 3 during their trials.

Regardless of how badly the public wants to believe that a vaccine has finally been found, the truth is that right now that is only one of many possible outcomes. The good news is that Russia is not alone, many countries around the world are engaged in the hunt for an effective vaccine, including India. A vaccine may not be available now, but some of the world’s brightest minds are trying to make it so in the near future.