Coronavirus Vaccine Allegedly Given to Russian Billionaires, But Country Denies It

As the race to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus continues, business executives, billionaires and government officials in Russia have allegedly had access to the country's experimental COVID-19 vaccine since April, according to a Bloomberg report.

Several hundred were reportedly given doses of the vaccine being developed by Russia's Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology and funded by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), according to people familiar with the vaccine work who declined to be named, Bloomberg reported.

However, several Russian health officials have denied the allegation, including Alexander Gintsburg, the head of the Gamalei Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. He told Russia's Interfax he was unaware of business executives getting early access to the vaccine.

"I don't know anything about large ones [companies getting early access to the vaccine] and about small ones [companies] too," Gintsburg told Interfax.

Alexey Kuznetsov, an assistant to Russia's health minister, told Russia's Sputnik: "The vaccine has not yet been released into commercial turnover, its usage outside the framework of clinical trials is impossible."

"Volunteers officially included in the tests received the vaccine. After the tests are completed, the issue of its state registration will be decided. At present, the vaccine has not been released into civilian circulation," Kuznetsov told Interfax.

The director of the Institute of Pharmacy and Translational Medicine at Russia's Sechenov University, Vadim Tarasov, told Interfax: "This is speculation. Preclinical studies have not yet been conducted, these are rumors."

According to the Bloomberg report, executives at several businesses, including Moscow-based aluminum company United Company Rusal as well as government officials and billionaires, were given shots of the vaccine from as early as April. Dozens of people were reportedly confirmed to have received shots but refused to allow their names to be published, Bloomberg reported.

Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive officer of RDIF, confirmed to Bloomberg that he and his family were given the shots. A significant number of other volunteers were also given the chance to be injected, Dmitriev claimed, declining to provide more details.

The program by which volunteers were given early access to the vaccine was said to be legal but was kept under the radar in a bid to avoid a rush of potential participants, according to an unnamed researcher familiar with the vaccine effort, Bloomberg reported.

One executive who received the vaccine reportedly felt no side effects, while others reported fever and muscle aches after receiving the shot. The fertilizer maker PhosAgro PJSC was also reportedly offered a chance to access the vaccine and is said to still be considering the opportunity, Bloomberg reported.

Newsweek has contacted the press office of the Russian government, RDIF, United Company Rusal and PhosAgro PJSC for comment.

Moscow Kremlin Russia May 2020
Buildings in Moscow's business center seen in the background behind the Kremlin in central Moscow on May 17, 2020. Getty Images

Last week, the results of human clinical trials completed at Sechenov University reportedly proved the effectiveness of the country's vaccine candidate, according to Elena Smolyarchuk, the head and chief researcher at the university's Center for Clinical Research on Medications, Russia's TASS news agency reported Monday.

The phase three trial is due to begin in August, Dmitriev told Reuters last week. He noted the country aims to have 30 million doses of a vaccine for the virus this year, and hopes to achieve "herd immunity" next year through vaccinating tens of millions of citizens.

Over 14.5 million people across the globe have been infected since the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China, including 3.7 million in the U.S. More than 8.1 million globally have reportedly recovered from infection, while over 606,700 have died as of Monday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The graphics below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

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The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the U.S. states with the most COVID-19 cases.

States with most COVID-19 cases
The U.S. states with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases. STATISTA

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. states and the European Union.

New COVID-19 cases in U.S. vs EU
Average number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and the European Union. STATISTA