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After Russia announced the world’s first approved COVID-19 vaccine for public use, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases expert in the U.S., said he “seriously doubts” the vaccine is ready.
“Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” Fauci said during a panel with National Geographic, according to The Hill.
Fauci said the United States is also trying to develop a vaccine and “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.”
“I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the vaccine on Tuesday, saying it “works effectively enough,” The New York Times reported.
Putin’s daughter reportedly got the vaccine, which went through human trials but was approved before reaching Phase 3 when researchers compare the vaccine with a placebo, according to The New York Times.
Russia said Phase 1 and 2 volunteers “felt well after taking the vaccine” and didn’t experience negative side effects, CNN reported.
Other health experts have expressed concerns about the vaccine.
“It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I’m very skeptical about what’s going on in Russia,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, according to Reuters.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Svetlana Zavidova, head of the Association of Clinical Research Organizations in Russia, according to Science Magazine. “I feel only shame for our country.”
“I think it’s really scary. It’s really risky,” Daniel Salmon, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, told The New York Times. Salmon and other experts noted since the vaccine hasn’t reached Phase 3 trials, we don’t know the harm it could cause.
Konstantin Chumakov, a member of the Global Virus Network, said “it is scientifically impossible to prove efficacy” without Phase 3 trials, according to The Washington Post.
“Using it in general population before the results of Phase 3 trials are fully studied is a gamble,” Chumakov said. “A Russian roulette, if you will.”
Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko defended the vaccine.
“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that ... are absolutely groundless,” Murashko told the Interfax news agency, according to BBC.
Officials are planning to start vaccinations in October, the publication reported.
Fauci testified before a House subcommittee in July, saying he was “cautiously optimistic” the U.S. could have a vaccine in the coming months.
“We hope at the time we get into the late fall and early winter, we will have in fact a vaccine that we can say will be safe and effective. One can never guarantee the safety and effectiveness unless you do the trial but we are cautiously optimistic,” Fauci said.
There are more than 165 coronavirus vaccines being worked on around the world, with 30 in human trials, according to The New York Times.
Pfizer and German company BioNTech announced on July 27 that their COVID-19 vaccine was entering Phase 2 and 3 with 30,000 participants. The trial will take place in the U.S. and countries including Germany, Argentina, and Brazil.
AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have developed a COVID-19 vaccine and are currently in Phase 2 and 3 trials in England and Phase 3 trials in Brazil and South Africa, according to The New York Times.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed seeks to have 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by January 2021.
More than 20 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed worldwide and more than 743,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.