Earlier this week, Russian leader Vladimir Putin unveiled the Sputnik-V vaccine, which he claimed is the first COVID-19 vaccine ready for the public.
However, the vaccine has not yet undergone Phase 3 trials, in which it would be tested on upwards of 1,000 people. Without safety data from this critical phase, it’s impossible to say whether a vaccine is effective or even safe. Experts around the world have expressed concern over Russia’s haste to roll the vaccine out despite the lack of clinical trials.
Experts on Russian politics and culture have noted that it appears that the Russian leader is trying to win back support in his country. Putin, who has been described as a strongman and a dictator, badly handled the country’s virus response. Likewise, Russia’s economy has been tanking as a result of the virus and subsequent lockdowns. As such, Putin is now trying to score a big win so he wins back support from the people.
Sounds familiar to Americans, huh?
Some countries, like Russia, the United States and Brazil made major missteps in addressing the virus. In Russia and the US, for example, lockdowns were not strict enough and were lifted too soon. There was no national standard of testing or contact tracing, no mandated quarantine, and no concerted national effort to stem the virus.
As such, both Russia and the US have seen their case numbers stay high in spite of lengthy, damaging shutdowns and piecemeal responses to the virus.
Putin, a figure who looms large in Russian politics, has been feeling the domestic pressure. His administration’s inability to stem the tide of the virus has led to open questioning of his government. As such, it makes sense that a strongman trying to hold onto power would grasp at anything to make the people trust him again.
If it turns out the vaccine doesn’t work properly or has damaging side-effects, the backlash could be severe. Russia’s vaccine could result in more problems than it solves if it is unsafe.
Since Russia has published no safety data on the vaccine and no records of the clinical trials, it’s impossible to say whether the vaccine is even safe.
Moreover, should the vaccine prove unsafe, it could be damaging for the reputation of other vaccines. There are already people in the US that are “anti-vaccine,” believing that vaccines are actually bad for public health. A massive scandal in a foreign nation involving a vaccine would hardly help to sway these people.