Russia on Saturday approved a third coronavirus vaccine for domestic use, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on state TV, though large-scale clinical trials of the shot, labelled CoviVac and produced by the Chumakov Centre, have yet to begin. Russia has already approved two Covid-19 vaccines, including the Sputnik V shot, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, following a similar approach of granting approval before seeing any late-stage trial results. The preemptive approvals had raised concerns among some scientists in the West, but inoculations with those first two shots began on a mass scale in Russia only after trials were concluded and showed success. Sputnik V was approved in August and late-stage trials began in September.
Mass vaccination was launched in December, after preliminary trial results showed the vaccine to be 91.4 per cent effective. Since then, more than two million Russians have been vaccinated with at least the first dose of Sputnik V, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Feb 10. Rollout of a second vaccine, developed by the Vector Institute in Novosibirsk, is beginning. “Today, Russia is the only country to have already three vaccines against Covid-19,” Prime Minister Mishustin said. The Chumakov Centre, founded in 1955 in St Petersburg by Mikhail Chumakov, is known for its work with US scientist Albert Sabin at the height of the Cold War, which led to the production of the widely-used polio vaccine.
Unlike the Sputnik V vaccine, which uses a modified harmless cold virus that tricks the body into producing antigens to help the immune system prepare for a coronavirus infection, the CoviVac vaccine is a “whole-virion” vaccine. “The vaccine we have developed reflects the whole history of Russian, as well as global, vaccine science,” the Chumakov Centre’s director, Aidar Ishmukhametov, said on Saturday. The advantage, according to virologist Alexander Chepurnov, cited by outlet Lenta.Ru, is that CoviVac includes all elements of the virus, creating a broader immune response that is likely to protect against any variants. However, testing Russia’s Covid-19 shots against SARS-CoV-2 variants that have emerged in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere is in its early stages. President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered a review of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccines to be presented by March 15 assessing their ability to protect against the new variants.