Putin Claims First Coronavirus Vaccine Without Providing Evidence

This article, in a slightly edited form, first appeared on  Pain News Network on August 22, 2020.


There is a worldwide race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus. This is a good thing. We all want a vaccine. Everyone is eager to get back to a “new normal,” whatever that will mean, but it’s unlikely to happen until we have an effective, safe COVID-19 vaccine.

The Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine

According to the Centers for Disease Control, vaccines have saved millions of lives. COVID-19 has already cost us more than 700,000 deaths around the world. The sooner we are able to manufacture and distribute a trustworthy vaccine, the better.

The company and country that find a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine first likely will be credited with saving hundreds of thousands of lives. The company that wins the race may benefit financially. But prestige and power are also at stake.

Researchers who were already working on vaccines for other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, when the pandemic hit have had an advantage. Several companies claim to be on the brink of success of developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca (which is collaborating with Oxford; it is not a pharmaceutical company) are among the pharmaceutical leaders that have fast-tracked the testing process and claim to be almost ready with a vaccine.

Developing a Vaccine Requires Patience

However, rushing a vaccine to market could be dangerous. It typically requires many years to develop a new vaccine because it can take weeks for antibodies to emerge—and even longer for negative side effects to develop. It may take several months to a year for some adverse effects to emerge, so studies require long-term follow-up to track thousands of vaccinated patients.

Many things can go wrong. The Cutter incident in 1955 was a tragic example of this. America’s first polio vaccine caused 400,000 cases of polio, paralyzing 200 children and killing 10. The mass effort to immunize children against polio had to be suspended, and laws were put in place to ensure federal regulation of future vaccines. There have been other vaccine-related fiascos, too. They should teach us all to be cautious and exercise patience with the development of new inoculations—even one as urgently needed as a COVID-19 vaccine.

President Vladimir Putin’s Claim

On August 11, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has developed a COVID-19 vaccine. He even claimed that one of his daughters has been given the vaccine. However, reports state Putin’s vaccine has not been tested beyond, perhaps, some of Russia’s elite and military personnel. Results have not been published, and the vaccine has yet to be certified as either effective or safe.

Last year, more than 800 scientific publications by Russian scientists had to be withdrawn because they contained plagiarized and fraudulent data. This does not bode well for the veracity of Russia’s current claims of a vaccine discovery.

Developing a vaccine will take time. However, we should allow as much time as it requires to ensure the vaccine’s safety. We cannot cut corners, or people will be harmed. We also need to trust the source of the reported progress. It makes sense to be cautious about accepting anything Russian scientists or its leadership purport to have accomplished.


Lynn R. Webster, MD, is a vice president of scientific affairs for PRA Health Sciences and consults with the pharmaceutical industry. He is author of the award-winning book, The Painful Truth, and co-producer of the documentary, It Hurts Until You Die. Opinions expressed here are those of the author alone and do not reflect the views or policy of PRA Health Sciences.

You can find him on Twitter: @LynnRWebsterMD.



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