Russia health ministry says its Sputnik V vaccine candidate is over 90% effective

  • Russia announces its Covid-19 vaccine candidate is also more than 90% effective
  • Earlier, Pfizer had announced similar about its vaccine candidate, currently in Phase 3 trials
  • A Russian health official said "based on our observations, it is also more than 90%"

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against Covid-19 is more than 90% effective, a representative of the health ministry said on Monday, citing data collated from vaccinations of the public rather than from an ongoing trial.

The comments followed a statement earlier on Monday by vaccine developers Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, who said their experimental Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective.

"We are responsible for monitoring the effectiveness of the Sputnik V vaccine among citizens who have received it as part of the mass vaccination programme," Oksana Drapkina, director of a research institute under the health ministry, said in a statement.

"Based on our observations, it is also more than 90%. The appearance of another effective vaccine - this is good news for everyone," Drapkina said.

Russia is rolling out the vaccine for domestic use despite the fact that late-stage trials have not yet finished.

Earlier on Monday, Alexander Gintsburg, director of Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute which developed the Russian vaccine candidate, said he welcomed the Pfizer news.

“In the near future we expect to publish interim results of the post-registration trial of the vaccine Sputnik V, the so-called Phase III trials. I am sure that its effectiveness level will also be high,” he said.

Russia is gearing up to publish preliminary results of an ongoing large-scale human trial, known as Phase III, this month. It is testing the vaccine on 40 000 people in Moscow

READ | Phase 3 of Covid-19 vaccine trial kicks off in South Africa

Earlier, US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE were  the first drugmakers to release successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

The companies said they have so far found no serious safety concerns and expect to seek US authorisation this month for emergency use of the vaccine.

If authorised, the number of doses will initially be limited and many questions remain, including how long the vaccine will provide protection. However, the news provides hope that other Covid-19 vaccines in development may also prove effective.

"Today is a great day for science and humanity," Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chairperson and chief executive, said.

"We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen."

Great day

Pfizer expects to seek broad US authorisation for emergency use of the vaccine for people aged 16 to 85. To do so, it will need two months of safety data from about half the study's 44 000 participants, which his expected late this month.

"I'm near ecstatic," Bill Gruber, one of Pfizer's top vaccine scientists, said in an interview. "This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we're now in."

Pfizer said the interim analysis was conducted after 94 participants in the trial developed Covid-19, examining how many of them had received the vaccine versus a placebo.

The company did not break down exactly how many of those who fell ill received the vaccine. Still, over 90% effectiveness implies that no more than 8 of the 94 people who caught Covid-19 had been given the vaccine, which was administered in two shots about three weeks apart.

To confirm the efficacy rate, Pfizer said it would continue the trial until there are 164 Covid-19 cases among participants. Given the recent spike in US infection rates, that number could be reached by early December, Gruber said.

The data have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal. Pfizer said it would do so once it has results from the entire trial.

Global race

The global race for a vaccine has seen wealthier countries forge multibillion-dollar supply deals with drugmakers like Pfizer, AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson, raising questions over when middle income and poorer nations will get access to inoculations.

Dozens of drugmakers and research groups around the globe have been racing to develop vaccines against Covid-19, which on Sunday exceeded 50 million infections since the new coronavirus first emerged late last year in China.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines.

Moderna Inc, whose vaccine candidate employs similar technology, is expected to report results from its large-scale trial later this month.

The mRNA technology is designed to trigger an immune response without using pathogens, such as actual virus particles.

Image credit: Unsplash

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