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  • Writer's pictureReece Bithrey

Opinion: I Wouldn't Take The Russian Vaccine, Would You?

(Picture Credit - India Times)

Since the introduction of lockdown in the UK back in March, I made a conscious decision not to inundate UNTITLED with coronavirus-based content. Sure, there's been the odd post on things to do in lockdown and issues with Zoom and piracy, but nothing explicitly detailing the virus, death tolls or medical advancements. However, when the World Health Organisation has warned against "vaccine nationalism" and as Russia proceed with the rollout of their Sputnik V vaccine, I felt breaking the silence was necessary.

I am, it must be stressed, the furthest thing from a medical professional; my only experience covers Edward Jenner and small snippets of GCSE Biology in the back of my head. Perhaps, however, we don't need to all appear to be experts on a subject just this once - maybe it's all a bit more common sense based. One thing we know for certain is that Russia's vaccine has skipped vital clinical trials which experts have stated are key to realising if a vaccine is fit for human consumption so to speak. The only evidence that Russia appeared to give for it working was the vaccination of President Vladimir Putin's own daughter, which appeared to classify as sufficient evidence. Somehow I don't think that's enough proof of execution.

There's a great whiff of Cold War-style actions about this, not least with the name of the Russian vaccine being named after the Soviet satellite that made it into space before the USA during the late fifties. To some, Russia's vaccine project draws parallels to that great achievement, acting as a reminder that the world's biggest country is still at the forefront of technology. To others, myself included, this reeks of the kind of thing the WHO warned against. The mentality of looking after your own is nothing new and for one nation to stride ahead of others in the apparent race to find a vaccine on the surface appears well thought out, but Russia's attempts just seem more like a PR stunt, not a proper attempt at saving lives.

Fundamentally, their endeavours act as a sad reminder of what society has become and continues to be. As time has passed, the ideas of compromise and unity appear to have been swept away and during a major public health crisis, you'd expect such a major shock to the system to bring people and nations together to fight for a common good. However, if anything, with the current leadership in the Western world and a crop of politicians designed to serve no-one but themselves, a truly cooperative response never seemed to be on the table in the first place. This attitude isn’t something new, it must be stressed, especially given the fact that the World Health Organisation doesn’t seem to have been taken seriously for a number of years and as a result, it’s given way to this “vaccine nationalism” that they've warned against.

The key issue here is the lack of Stage Three trials that an awful lot of vaccine candidates have moved onto, involving giving thousands of people a vaccine or placebo and then tracking them to see if the vaccine can prevent disease on a larger scale. More relevant to Russia's vaccine however is that a Stage Three trial allows for researchers to confirm if a vaccine is truly safe. The fact that the Sputnik V vaccine has only been tested on 76 people as part of two trials with little to no results published from those and other pieces of research is a major cause for concern. In addition, as well as that very little is known about this experimental vaccine. Where my problems stem from is the sheer scale of the rollout of an unproven vaccine. As per the state-owned TASS news agency, Russia has received requests for one billion doses from Latin America, the Middle East and Asia, with manufacturing capacity in place to produce 500 million doses with plans for expansion. To already have plans to distribute what some believe is an unsafe vaccine to potentially a seventh of the world population is pretty startling.

The decision to choose to take the Russian vaccine isn't really a choice of taking a vaccine, it's one of moral judgement. If you choose to take a vaccine that hasn't been fully tested and with the only concrete evidence of it working appearing to be the vaccination of Vladimir Putin's daughter, then personally speaking, more fool you. To me at least, I'd rather take a vaccine that we know works on a larger scale with evidence to back up otherwise flimsy claims.


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