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Russia says it has a COVID-19 vaccine. But don’t forget this part of the story

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia has world’s first COVID-19 vaccine

In this handout photo taken on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 and provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund, an employee performs with a new vaccine at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
In this handout photo taken on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, and provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund, an employee works with a new vaccine at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia has registered the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine, going as far as to say his daughter has taken the vaccine.

Russia completed clinical trials in less than two months. Phase 3 trials will begin soon. Putin said one of his daughters “took part in the experiment” and was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

“As far as I know, a vaccine against a new coronavirus infection has been registered this morning, for the first time in the world,” he said at a meeting with members of the government, RIA Novosti reported.

“Although I know that it works quite effectively, it forms a stable immunity and, I repeat, has passed all the necessary checks,” Putin said.

There has been no published data on the vaccine from researchers. It’s unclear if there’s any safety or long-term effects from the vaccine either.

But there is immediate and obvious skepticism over the virus. For example, the World Health Organization said it has been speaking with Russian health officials “possible prequalification process for a COVID-19 candidate vaccine which requires rigorous review,” Reuters reported.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, told CNBC that he wouldn’t take the COVID-19 vaccine from Russia unless there was a clinical trial.

“They’ve cleared the equivalent, really, of a phase 1 clinical trial in terms of putting it in 100 to maybe as many as 300 patients so it needs to be evaluated in a large-scale clinical trial,”

What’s interesting about this announcement is that it comes almost one month after American, Canadian and British intelligence agencies said in a joint statement that hackers from Russia’s intelligence services tried to steal coronavirus vaccine research from the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

The reports suggested that a group called “APT29,” also known as “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear,” used malware to steal information from organizations that were looking into making a vaccine.

Russia denied the alleged attack, though.

“We do not have information on who might have hacked into pharmaceutical companies and research centers,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s TASS news agency. “We can only say one thing: Russia has nothing to do with these attempts. We do not accept these accusations, as well as the usual accusations of interference in the 2019 (U.K.) election.”

But officials remained adamant that Russia was trying to snag information about vaccines from major countries, raising immediate questions about the validity of its vaccine.

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement. “While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behavior, the U.K. and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.”