Kremlin Denies Putin Got Early Access to Trial Gamaleya COVID-19 Vaccine

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied that President Vladimir Putin has been given an uncertified COVID-19 vaccine after a report that Russian VIPs are already being inoculated against the virus.

Bloomberg reported Monday—based on conversations with people familiar with the effort—that scores of elite Russians have been given early access to the vaccine, which is being developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute in Moscow.

According to the report, some were getting shots to protect them against the pandemic as early as April. Bloomberg did not name any Russian politicians who are believed to have been inoculated.

Peskov said Monday that the president had not been given the vaccine, noting it was still under development.

"No," he said, when asked if Putin had received the vaccine, according to Russia's Tass state news agency. "It has not been certified yet. It wouldn't be good for a head of state to use an uncertified vaccine, I think."

Bloomberg reported that government officials and billionaire tycoons had been among those receiving the vaccine, including key executives at large companies like aluminum giant United Co. Rusal.

The Gamaleya vaccine has completed a phase 1 trial using around 40 Russian military personnel. The effort is being backed by the military and funded by the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund.

The results of the phase 1 trial have not yet been released, but the next stage of trials have already begun with more participants.

Bloomberg said it had spoken with more than a dozen people who confirmed they had received the shots through the program, which is legal but kept secret to avoid a rush of hopeful participants, though none would agree to their names being published.

Recipients are monitored with their results logged by Gamaleya, and all participants sign a form accepting the risk. Gamaleya said its director and the team working on the trial were all vaccinated when the project began.

Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive officer of the RDIF, has said the Gamaleya project is ahead of Western competitors, and that phase 3 trials will begin on August 3 involving thousands of people across Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

He has said that the vaccine would likely be distributed in Russia from early September.

Russia has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, registering more than 770,000 cases and 12,300 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Media reports indicate that Moscow may have actually underreported its true number of deaths.

Putin has faced criticism for his response to the pandemic, declaring in March that Russia's outbreak was under control before a nationwide spike in cases.

The Russian president himself self-isolated early on in the crisis after coming into contact with a Moscow doctor who later tested positive for the virus.

The U.S., U.K., and Canada have recently accused Russian hackers of attempting to steal intellectual property from Western trials of COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

Responding to the allegations, Dmitriev said the "accusations against Russia regarding hacking attacks against western pharmaceutical companies are an attempt to tarnish the Russian coronavirus vaccine," CNN reported.

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This file photo shows an employee at the production line of Russia's biotech company BIOCAD, which is developing its own vaccine against the new coronavirus, in Strelna, Russia on May 20, 2020. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images/Getty