Production of a second COVID-19 vaccine is reportedly under way in Russia, as health officials continue to confirm new infections, hospitalizations and related fatalities in record numbers.
On Tuesday, Anna Popova, a physician and one of Russia’s top public-health authorities, confirmed production of the vaccine had begun. The vaccine was developed by scientists and researchers at the Vector Institute, a national virology center in Siberia. Popova said the center will produce some doses before next year, Russian news agency TASS reported.
Rospotrebnadzor, a federal bureau leading the country’s COVID-19 response, provided additional details about larger clinical trials to come following Popova’s announcement.
“There are plans to conduct several independent post-registration trials: on volunteers (both healthy and suffering chronic illness) aged more than 18; on a limited group of 3,000 people; on an expanded group of 40,000 people; on 150 people aged above 60; and on minors aged from 14 to 17,” said Rospotrebnadzor in a statement, according to Sputnik News.
The health ministry authorized early-stage clinical trials to start testing the vaccine, called EpiVacCorona, at the end of July. Those trials involved a small group of volunteers and ended late last month. On October 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Vector Institute had earned regulatory approval and received a formal registration certificate.
More than seven months into the global pandemic, researchers across the world are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine that protects against COVID-19. Russia became the first country to approve an immunization candidate, named Sputnik V, for widespread production and distribution over the summer. While Putin repeatedly claimed the vaccine—which entered post-authorization trials as developers simultaneously began to distribute it for public use—was safe, U.S. health experts criticized the hasty authorization and rollout.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S., called Putin’s claims “bogus,” given the lack of extensive testing in clinical trials, during a podcast interview in August.
“It’s not bogus because [Putin] has a vaccine. What’s bogus is to say you have a vaccine that’s safe and effective,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during an appearance on George Washington University’s podcast Healthy You: Surviving a Pandemic.
“There’s a big difference between having a vaccine and proving in trials…that are really well-designed, randomized placebo-controlled trials…that when you’re starting to give it widely to hundreds of millions of people, that you’re giving a safe and effective vaccine,” he continued.
Russia recorded its highest single-day increase in COVID-19 diagnoses on Monday, with more than 17,300 new cases. Another 16,550 were confirmed on Tuesday. More than 1.5 million people have tested positive for the respiratory illness in Russia to date.
Newsweek reached out to the Vector Institute for further comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.