Russia Claims Vaccine Will Protect From COVID-19 for 2 Years, As Fauci Continues to Doubt Safety and Effectiveness

The developer of Russia's coronavirus vaccine has claimed it will protect recipients from the bug for at least two years. His remarks came as top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said he "seriously doubts" the vaccine is ready to be widely used.

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Russian Healthcare Ministry, made the comments on the state owned TV channel Russia-1, the Tass news agency reported on Thursday.

"Effective period of the vaccine, its protective properties will last not during a short term, half a year—one year but for at least two years," he said.

Gintsburg made the claims as questions remain about our immunity to the coronavirus. As the virus which causes COVID-19 only emerged late last year, it is impossible to know how long a person's immune response will last.

President Vladimir Putin announced Tuesday that Russia had become the first country to approve a vaccine against the coronavirus. It was tested on humans for less than two months, with Phase 3 trials starting last week. The World Health Organization vaccine tracker updated Thursday states it is in Phase 1 trials.

In contrast, the U.S., which has pumped billions of dollars into Operation Warp Speed to accelerate treatment and vaccine development, expects to have a vaccine by the end of the year, or the start of 2021.

As scientists around the world work to create new vaccines against the virus, Russia's has been named Sputnik-V in a nod to the country launching the first satellite into orbit and harking back to the Cold War space race.

The researchers at the Gamaleya National Research Center have not published any data on the vaccine, prompting criticism from experts. Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Friday that data on preclinical and clinical studies would be published "in the coming days, possibly by Monday."

Speaking to National Geographic on Thursday, Fauci said he hopes Russia has proven the vaccine they have developed is safe and effective, but added: "I seriously doubt that they've done that."

"We have half a dozen or more vaccines. So if we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn't work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to," he said. "But that's not the way it works."

Fauci has made similar comments in previous interviews, and at a House Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus Crisis' congressional hearing.

Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems Biology at University College London, said Russia's approval "is a reckless and foolish decision."

"Mass vaccination with an improperly tested vaccine is unethical," he said on Twitter. "Any problem with the Russian vaccination campaign would be disastrous both through its negative effects on health, but also because it would further set back the acceptance of vaccines in the population."

Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, U.K. said in a statement on Tuesday the "only sensible way" to get information on whether a vaccine is safe and effective "is through very large well-designed phase 3 trials."

"Whilst details about the Russian vaccine are scant, it does appear to have gone through the early trial phases, so it's safety profile should be reasonably well known, but whether it will work has not been established and therefore it doesn't strike me as being very sensible to roll this out routinely," he said.

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A stock image shows a healthcare worker delivering a vaccine.