Germany has warned that Russia’s claim that it has developed the world’s first coronavirus vaccine could prove “dangerous”.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said this week that a COVID-19 vaccine developed in the country has been registered for use and one of his daughters has already been inoculated.
But German health minister Jens Spahn said he was sceptical about the claims, warning they could ultimately “kill the acceptance” of vaccination as a weapon against the pandemic.
Spahn told Deutschlandfunk radio: "It can be dangerous to start vaccinating millions, if not billions, of people too early because it could pretty much kill the acceptance of vaccination if it goes wrong, so I'm very sceptical about what's going on in Russia.
"I would be pleased if we had an initial, good vaccine but based on everything we know – and that's the fundamental problem, namely that the Russians aren't telling us much – this has not been sufficiently tested.”
Spahn said it was “very, very important” that proper studies be carried out, adding: "It's not about being first somehow – it's about having an effective, tested and therefore safe vaccine.”
Caution urged over Russia claims
Putin emphasised that the jab he claims Russia has developed underwent the necessary tests and offers a lasting immunity from the virus.
Speaking at a government meeting, Putin said: "I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests.
"The most important thing is to ensure full safety of using the vaccine and its efficiency."
However, scientists in the UK say no scientific evidence backing these claims has been published.
They also warn the release of a vaccine that is not safe could cause extreme damage and worsen the current situation.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said there are many vaccines in development around the world and there is an interest in it all being truly open.
He added: "The collateral damage from release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective would exacerbate our current problems insurmountably.
"I hope these criteria have been followed. We are all in this together.”
Potential side effects
Dr Ayfer Ali, a specialist in drug research at Warwick Business School, said the problem with fast approvals is that potential adverse effects that are rare but serious are likely to be missed.
"Another issue,” he said, “is missing potential antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE), which is a phenomenon where a vaccine is not protective enough to prevent the disease but instead allows the virus to enter the body more easily and worsen the disease the vaccine is supposed to protect against.”
Ali added: "Russia is essentially conducting a large population-level experiment.”
UK vaccination progress
There are hopes for a coronavirus vaccine as early as this year after human trials are reported to have shown promising results.
Researchers at the University of Oxford said in July that they believe they have made a breakthrough after discovering the jab could provide "double protection" against the virus, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said teams were working towards a "best-case scenario" of a vaccine being made available sometime this year, although conceded it was more likely in 2021.
Last month the government signed a deal with pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Sanofi Pasteur to secure 60 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.
A further agreement has been signed with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford for their jab, which could produce 100 million doses for the UK.