The world has more or less gotten used to the fact of the COVID-19 coronavirus plaguing almost all countries even as some of those continue to struggle to keep their infection numbers and, worse, death tolls in check. What was previously a race to bring order to a suddenly chaotic world has now become a race to find a cure or, at the very least, a vaccine to prevent infection in the first place. Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly claimed the crown in that race, raising not just doubts but also deep concerns over releasing a vaccine that has not undergone proper and massive testing.
Vaccines usually undergo several phases of testing but what has become the most contentious one of late is what is called “Phases 3”. This phase, which involves widespread testing, usually with thousands of participants, is normally required before getting regulatory approval. Of course, there is no international statute that requires those phases and each country implements its own rules. In this case, Russia decided its coronavirus vaccine is cleared for use even before it has undergone Phase 3 trials.
As expected, that has alarmed many in the health and medical community who are already struggling to explain to the public and, more importantly, governments the importance of that Phase 3 testing, even if it would require even more waiting. Even if you consider that the vaccine is safe and has no dangerous side effects, skipping proper testing procedure would only give people a false sense of security while also costing governments and citizens wasted money. On the other hand, there is also a sense of urgency as the world continues to fight off the deadly virus.
That race to develop a vaccine has, unfortunately, also developed political undertones as countries compete to be the first to develop a vaccine, both for geopolitical reasons as well as economic ones. Other countries are already signing up to be the first to benefit from Russia’s drug, even without the assurance of its efficacy.
Russia is, of course, taking it as a matter of national pride since the country has been largely perceived as being rather backward both in political and technological aspects. That has also been one of the reasons why scientists and doctors are alarmed about the premature announcement and are worried other countries will follow suit and eschew Phase 3 testing. Russia says it will soon conduct massive trials but has also yet to release the scientific papers detailing the vaccine.