US raises safety issue in China, Russia vaccines

Dr Anthony Fauci testifies during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, DC on July 31, 2020.
Dr Anthony Fauci testifies during a House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, DC on July 31, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • America's top infectious diseases official Anthony Fauci has raised concerns over the safety of Covid-19 vaccines being developed by China and Russia.

Several Chinese companies are at the forefront of the race to develop an immunity to the disease, and Russia plans to start mass vaccinations in October with health workers and teachers first in line to get the inoculation against the disease, according to its Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.

A drug developed by Moscow's Gamaleya Institute and the Russian Direct Investment Fund has completed clinical trials and the authorities are preparing to register it with regulators, Mr Murashko was quoted as saying by the state-run Tass news service.

But Dr Fauci said it is unlikely that the United States would use any vaccine developed in either country, where regulatory systems are far more opaque than they are in the West.

"I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone," he told a US congressional hearing last Friday. "Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic, at best."

As part of its own "Operation Warp Speed", the US government will pay pharmaceutical giants Sanofi and GSK up to US$2.1 billion (S$2.9 billion) to develop a vaccine, the companies said.

Last month, Chinese media announced that a coronavirus vaccine developed by CanSino Biologics was being used to immunise the Chinese military - making it the first approved for people, albeit in a limited population. Many scientists have raised ethical concerns because the vaccine has not yet begun its final stages of testing.

Two other Chinese companies, Sinovac and Sinopharm, have launched final phase three trials in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.

Three Western coronavirus vaccines are in final phase three trials.

One is produced by US biotech firm Moderna and the National Institutes for Health; one by the University of Oxford and Britain's AstraZeneca; and the last by Germany's BioNTech with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2020, with the headline 'US raises safety issue in China, Russia vaccines'. Print Edition | Subscribe