Russia’s vaccine chief claims the West is trying to ‘lure’ away its scientists

An employee at work at the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Russian Healthcare Ministry that produces a COVID-19 vaccine.

Vyacheslav Prokofyev | TASS | Getty Images

The head of Russia’s vaccine-development body has claimed that Western research institutions are seeking to “lure” away its scientists to work for them.

Alexander Gintsburg alleged that attempts to poach scientists from Russia to work in Europe and the U.S. had not worked. Gintsburg is the head of the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology which developed Russia’s coronavirus vaccine that was given regulatory approval last week.

“Our researchers have been working at the Gamaleya Institute for ten years … Any American or European university can only dream of having such researchers. And they are seeking to lure them away. But they won’t be able to,” Gintsburg told the Rossiya-1 television channel on Sunday, Russian news agency Tass reported. Gintsburg offered no evidence for his claim, nor did he mention any specific institutions.

Russia registered its coronavirus vaccine on August 11, making it the first country in the world to do so. The vaccine has only gone through Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials that involved a limited number of participants, however. Russia said Phase 3 trials on a larger cohort of people would begin in August.

Western health officials reacted to Russia’s announcement of the vaccine with skepticism and concern, and questioned the efficacy and safety of the vaccine as no data on the results of the clinical trials has been published. Russia rejected that criticism, with one Russian official telling CNBC that “some U.S. media and U.S. people” were waging “major information warfare” against the vaccine.

Gintsburg said the West’s negative reaction was predictable.

“I would call it a natural negative reaction of Western companies to the emergence of a Russian production they did not expect. So, I think we should ignore these negative things that are being poured on us,” he said in the Rossiya-1 television interview.

Russia has denied that it is part of an “arms race” to develop a vaccine, saying it wants to cooperate with other nations. But the country’s urgency to register a vaccine, and its claims it will start mass production of it in September, hints at a competitive attitude when it comes to coronavirus vaccine development.

Even the name of Russia’s vaccine, “Sputnik V,” gives a nod to the world’s first satellite that was launched by Russia in 1957 during the Cold War space race.

Tensions between Russia and the West have reemerged in recent months, with the U.K., Canada and the U.S. accusing Russia of trying to “steal” coronavirus vaccine research information, an accusation that Moscow has denied.

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