Trump administration health official says some call Putin’s coronavirus vaccine ‘Russian roulette’

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health

Patrick McDermott | Washington Nationals | Getty Images

The top official at the National Institute of Health on Thursday said that Russia’s coronavirus vaccine skipped “fundamental parts” of the approval process, saying some people have coined it “Russian roulette.” 

“I think virtually every vaccine expert in the world looking at this has been quite concerned whether this was a wise decision. Some have called this Russian roulette,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH, said during a conference call with reporters.

NIH is part of the federal government’s program, called Operation Warp Speed, designed to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of vaccines and treatments to fight the coronavirus. 

Scientists and health officials across the globe have questioned the safety and efficacy of Russia’s vaccine, which President Vladimir Putin claimed “works quite effectively.” Putin said that Russian health authorities approved what would be the first coronavirus vaccine and said that one of his daughters has already taken it. 

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

On the call Thursday, Collins said Russia only conducted a phase one clinical trial of its vaccine, administering it to around 100 people, and decided “that was good enough.” Medical experts have warned, however, that it’s unknown whether a vaccine would work and what the potential side effects would be without a large-scale phase three clinical trial. 

“If that was the standard, we would have been declared success several months ago because we had that experience of successful phase one trials,” Collins said. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told National Geographic in an interview that he “seriously doubts” Russia has proven its vaccine is safe and effective. 

“Having a vaccine … and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things. We have half a dozen or more vaccines, so if we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn’t work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to,” Fauci said during a National Geographic panel moderated by ABC News Correspondent Deborah Roberts that aired on Thursday. 

The World Health Organization said it’s in contact with Russian regulatory authorities to conduct a rigorous review of the country’s vaccine before recommending it to other nations for procurement. 

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