US health chief doubts Russia vaccine: 'This is not a race to be first'

United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar doubted Russia’s claim it had developed a COVID-19 vaccine ready for use, citing the lack of transparency in trials and data that would prove the vaccine to be effective. 

Speaking at a teleconference with reporters in Asia, Azar said on Wednesday, August 12, that phase 3 trials for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine – a process that usually takes months to complete – were only just beginning. 

“And the data from the initial trials in Russia have not been disclosed, it’s not transparent,” Azar said. 

President Vladimir Putin earlier announced that Russia had approved the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine that was "quite effective," though scientists worldwide expressed worry over its safety and efficacy as the country jumped dangerously ahead of widespread trials essential to determining its safety and effectiveness. 

Azar stressed that in developing a viable vaccine, “it’s important that we provide safe and effective vaccines and that the data be transparent."

He said, “This is not a race to be first,” adding, “This is using every power of the US government, its economy, our biopharmaceutical industry across the globe and harnessing that to deliver as quickly as we can for the benefit of US citizens and also for the people of the world safe and effective vaccines.” 

Aside from Azar, another top expert who raised concerns over the vaccine was renowned infectious disease expert and US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, who said he “seriously doubts” the Sputnik V vaccine meets these standards. 

"I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they've done that,” said Fauci in a National Geographic discussion moderated by ABC News' Deborah Roberts. 

Warning signs

Yet despite the risks, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Manila and Moscow were in talks on possible doses to be allocated. Duterte had gone as far to say he would receive the vaccine in public himself. 

On Wednesday, the Philippines’ vaccine expert panel led by the Department of Science and Technology is expected to meet with representatives from the Gamaleya research institute that developed the vaccine to discuss participating in possible phase 3 clinical trials. 

The Department of Health, meanwhile, assured the public that as concerns over Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine were raised, the potential treatment will still be subject to health safety and regulatory protocols by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the country’s Health Technology Assessment Council. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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