Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he had serious doubts that the Russian-made COVID-19 vaccine, touted by Russian President Vladmir Putin on Tuesday, was safe and effective.
The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spoke with National Geographic in a virtual panel discussion when he expressed his concerns.
‘I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective,’ Fauci said. ‘I seriously doubt that they’ve done that.’
He continued: ‘Having a vaccine, Deborah, and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things.’
Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing, a move hailed by Moscow as evidence of its scientific prowess.
The development paves the way for the mass inoculation of the Russian population, even as the final stage of clinical trials to test safety and efficacy continue.
The speed at which Russia is moving to roll out its vaccine highlights its determination to win the global race for an effective product, but has stirred concerns that it may be putting national prestige before sound science and safety.
Fauci said that the United States has already had several vaccines of its own.
‘If we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people, or giving them something that doesn’t work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that’s not the way it works,’ he said.
Fauci stressed that Americans need to understand that ‘announcements from the Chinese or the Russians that [they] have a vaccine’ will differ from those made by the U.S. ‘because we have a way of doing thing in this country that we care about safety.’
The director also touched on the threats he and his family have received, ABC News reports.
‘It seems inconceivable, if you just think about it,’ Fauci continued, ‘that when you’re trying to promote public health principles to save people’s lives and keep them healthy … that that’s interpreted to be so far from your own way of thinking that you actually want to threaten the person. That’s just no way that our society can really function well and go along that way – we’ve got to get past that.’
Speaking at a government meeting on state television, Putin said the vaccine, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, was safe and that it had even been administered to one of his daughters.
‘I know that it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat, it has passed all the needed checks,’ said Putin.
He said he hoped the country would soon start mass producing the vaccine.
Its approval by the health ministry foreshadows the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.
Such trials, which require a certain rate of participants catching the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.
Regulators around the world have insisted that the rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines will not compromise safety. But recent surveys show growing public distrust in governments’ efforts to rapidly produce such a vaccine.
Russian health workers treating COVID-19 patients will be offered the chance of volunteering to be vaccinated soon after the vaccine’s approval, a source told Reuters last month.
More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.