It’s here! The COVID-19 vaccine is finally here!

Err… or is it?!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or taking the lockdown very seriously), then you’ve probably heard about the new COVID-19 vaccine announced by Russia last week.

Naturally, news of any vaccine must be treated with skepticism – after all, it’s THE #1 innovation we’re all waiting for. And let’s be honest: Russia has never been shy to grab the spotlight.

So today, we’re going to dive into this new vaccine. Is it really as effective as Russian health officials claim? Or are they jumping the gun in an attempt at international glory?!

Let’s start with the basics:

What is this new COVID-19 vaccine?

 

In short, Russia’s Ministry of Health has announced that they have successfully created a COVID-19 vaccine. It was developed and tested by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow.

The vaccine is administered in 2 separate shots, with the second coming 21 days after the first.

The key ingredients in both are modified adenoviruses. Adenoviruses normally cause the common cold – but in this case, they’ve been modified to include the spike protein gene from COVID-19. With this modification, the adenovirus becomes capable of entering human cells – and from there, they will begin preparing the immune system for the actual COVID-19 virus.

This approach is called a “viral vector” and is a common approach to vaccinating, especially for novel viruses like COVID-19.

Interestingly, the vaccine is known as “Sputnik V” – a reference to the famous satellite launched in 1957, which marked a huge win for the USSR in the space race.

The original Sputnik – one of the USSR’s most famous scientific successes.

 

This has led some experts to believe Russian authorities are just as focused on gaining credit for the vaccine as they are focused on making sure it even works. Which leads us to the big question…

Does the vaccine work?

The short answer: Nobody knows for sure. Not even the Russians.

The long answer: The new vaccine is still in testing phases, but results look promising – IF you believe Russian reports, of course. At this point, most experts outside of Russia are understandably skeptical.

The creators of the vaccine claim to have completed both Phase I and Phase II trials, meaning they only need to complete the final large-scale Phase III trial before they can comfortably claim that the vaccine is effective.

Phase I trials focus on a small group of volunteers, while Phase II trials expand the test group to better evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness. Phase II trials also try to identify potential side effects.

Russian researchers claim there were no negative effects from the vaccine during Phase I and II, and they’re quickly preparing to conduct additional trials in other countries. Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been named as potential candidates.

At the same time, they’re already making plans to start producing the vaccine in mass quantities.

There’s just one problem: None of the trial data has been released. That means we simply have to trust the word of Russian authorities at this point – which is a big ask for many.

As epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz summarized in The Guardian: “We actually have no idea if it is safe and effective at all.”

Alright, so maybe Russia is jumping the gun by releasing this vaccine. So what?!

Well, if an ineffective vaccine is prematurely released, it brings a LOT of risks.

First, the vaccine itself could prove to be unsafe. It may carry a nasty side effect or drug interaction that would normally be discovered in Phase II or Phase III testing – we simply don’t have the data to know.

Second, an ineffective vaccine may result in much faster and deadlier spread. If people think they’re safe, they’re much less likely to follow social distancing measures, which have been essential to stemming COVID-19’s spread.

A poorly made vaccine could disrupt social distancing practices.

The bottom line: This COULD be a major breakthrough…. but we’re not holding our breath yet.

All things considered, this at least proves that progress is being made. In fact, countries all around the world are working extremely hard to protect us against COVID-19.

It’s unclear whether or not the Russian vaccine will be the winner. However, it’s not the only source of hope. There are currently 6 other COVID-19 vaccines in Phase III trials, with many showing promising results. In addition, 100 other vaccines are in earlier phases.

Most importantly, they’re sharing their data – so when we finally discover the winning vaccine, we’ll know it quickly.

Thanks to this global concerted effort, experts believe we may have a working COVID-19 vaccine within 12 months. And then we can start working on the next step: getting everyone access to the vaccine.

For now, that’s a story for another day… but it looks like that day may come soon, Russian-made or otherwise!