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Vladimir Putin presented Sputnik V, the world’s “first” vaccine against Covid-19. But caution is called for at the World Health Organization and this vaccine leaves many specialists skeptical. Announcement effect or real remedy? Elements of explanation.

While several pharmaceutical companies have launched in a mad race for the Covid-19 vaccine for many months, Russia announced, through the voice of its president, to have recorded, Tuesday August 11, “for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus”.

The Gamaleya research institute, at the origin of this new vaccine called “Sputnik V”, did not seem to be the most advanced in this area: its vaccine project was only in phase 1 (over three phases of development normally), according to the WHO list dated August 10 of the 28 candidate vaccines submitted to clinical trials.

The Institut Pasteur, contacted by France 24, said it was “unable to shed any scientific light on this announcement” from Russia, having “no information” on this vaccine at this time.

“No data”

“We can say very little about it because we know very little about it”, confirms Marie-Paule Kieny, specialist in virology, research director at Inserm and former deputy director of the WHO, contacted by France. 24. And she continues: “(As it stands), we know that this vaccine from the Gamaleya Institute is based on two products: an adenovirus type 26 – of the same type as the one used by the Janssen company – and an adenovirus type 5 – of the same type as that of the Chinese company CanSino. ”

According to the research director at Inserm, “we have results published by Janssen and CanSino and, based on these data, we could think that (“ Sputnik V ”) could have a level of effectiveness similar to other vaccines currently developed ”. Before qualifying: “But in the absence of data, we cannot conclude either on the possible effectiveness or on the ineffectiveness of this vaccine.”

The World Health Organization has also been cautious after this announcement by Vladimir Putin, recalling that the “prequalification” and approval of a vaccine go through “rigorous” procedures. “We are in close contact with the Russians and discussions are continuing,” said Tarik Jasarevic, WHO spokesperson.

Expedited vaccine approval process in Russia?

Several specialists have, however, expressed their doubts about the effectiveness of this new vaccine. Patrick Berche, former director of the Institut Pasteur de Lille, for example explained on BFM TV that “you absolutely cannot say that a vaccine is effective without (first) testing it. You cannot say that a vaccine is interesting without having tested its toxicity.”

Isabelle Imbert, researcher at CNRS, esteem in Le Parisien that Vladimir Putin’s announcement, “This is com! Promising a vaccine so quickly is extremely dangerous ”; And she asks: “Did they respect phase 1, high doses to few people to check safety, phase 2 during which the serum is injected to several hundred volunteers, then phase 3, where this times the tests relate to several thousand people? ”.

On this point, Marie-Paule Kieny brings a nuance: to save time in the search for a vaccine, as currently against Covid-19, “the different stages (phase 1 and 2 for example) can be carried out in parallel rather that successively ”. He added: “In some countries there are accelerated approval procedures for vaccines, such as the Animal Rule in the USA. The Russians may have developed such a homologation process. “

As for the opacity of the medical data behind the new Russian vaccine, the director of the Gamaleya Institute said on Wednesday that the results of clinical trials would be published once they were evaluated by Russian experts, according to Reuters.

“A race for public and financial health”

In the absence of multiple scientific elements, it seems difficult to say whether “Sputnik V” is indeed the first vaccine against Covid-19. However, the political significance of this announcement is not in doubt: the very name of the vaccine refers to the first artificial satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, thus reminiscent of the space race in which the United States had embarked. United and the USSR in the 20th century.

“This is a clearly political announcement, at the international level to show that Russia is there and that it matters,” explains Marie-Paule Kieny. “We must also not forget the internal, national message in a country where control measures taken by the authorities have not yet made it possible to control the first wave of SARS-CoV-2.”

The vaccine race has a double interest, according to Armelle Charrier, international columnist at France 24, who explained Tuesday / “The stake is substantial: whoever has the vaccine will not only be the one who earns the most money but he will have also an extremely important aura. ” And she specifies that every country, be it Russia, the United States or China, has its interests to find the remedy first.

Putin announces the development of the first vaccine against Covid-19: the lighting of Armelle Charrier

Finally, Russia’s announcement is fully in line with this forward race: “It’s a race for public and financial health”, summarizes Marie-Paule Kieny. “Everyone thinks they are going to win the jackpot. So there will likely be more than one vaccine. “

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