While scientists from around the world are working overtime to create a vaccine that would bring a permanent end to the coronavirus pandemic, the Caspian's largest country has declared victory in the global vaccine race.
Addressing a government meeting on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the approval of a coronavirus vaccine for human use, claiming it as "the world's first".
"As far as I know, the first vaccine against the new coronavirus infection has been registered for the first time in the world this morning," RIA Novosti quoted Putin as saying. He added that the vaccine works effectively, providing immunity against the virus without producing dangerous side effects.
The Russian president assured the public that the vaccine underwent all necessary testing, adding that one of his daughters had taken it and is feeling well.
Developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, the vaccine named Sputnik-V bears the same name as the world's first satellite launched in 1957 by the Soviet Union during the space race. The name signifies the country's success in being the first to have an approved vaccine.
So far, the new COVID-19 vaccine has been tested on 38 volunteers, said Alexander Ginzburg, head of the Gamaleya Research Institute. The scientists conducted clinical trials, testing volunteers for the absence of COVID-19 infections and antibodies. After they achieved the desired negative results, the volunteers were isolated for two weeks.
In the second phase, volunteers were divided into two groups: people in the first group received a single dose of the new drug, while people in the other group received a double dose of the same drug.
The vaccine is planned to be put into circulation throughout Russia by January 1, 2021, after the start of the third phase of trials in Moscow which will start "as soon as the money comes in", said Ginzburg.
Critics have immediately questioned the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, pointing to the fact that it was approved less than two months after the first human trials. However, Russia dismissed the criticism, boasting that at least 20 countries and some US companies have already voiced their interest in the vaccine.
"We've seen considerable interest in the Russian vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute abroad. Moreover, we have received preliminary applications for over 1 billion doses of the vaccine from 20 countries," Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is funding the vaccine research, told CNN on Tuesday.
"Along with our foreign partners, we are already prepared to manufacture over 500 million doses of vaccine per year in five countries and the plan is to ramp up production capacity even higher. So far, countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia have displayed the greatest interest in the vaccine and we are about to finalize a number of contracts for the purchase of the vaccine," Dmitriev added.
The deadly virus, which was first identified in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, in December, has exponentially spread around the globe. After cases of human-to-human transmissions were confirmed outside China, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak an international public health emergency, but due to a sharp surge in cases, it was soon forced to make a new statement, declaring the outbreak a pandemic.
According to an interactive map from Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the number of global coronavirus cases has reached the grim milestone of 20 million cases and is approaching 750,000 deaths.
The United States tops the list with more than 5.3 million people infected, followed by Brazil with more than 3.1 million cases. India is ranked third with more than 2.3 million cases.
Although Russia has the fourth-highest number of confirmed infections worldwide, the country's mortality rate is much lower than other countries. According to official government data, 902,701 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Russia since the beginning of the country's outbreak and 15,260 people have died from the virus.