Inside Russia’s Race to Develop a Covid-19 Vaccine Before the West

MOSCOW—In April, as Covid-19 cases surged across Russia, President Vladimir Putin called a meeting of the country’s top scientists and health officials over video link to deliver an urgent directive: Do whatever you need to create a national vaccine as soon as possible.

Four weeks later, Alexander Gintsburg, director of the state-run Gamaleya Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology, told state television that his researchers had developed one. They were so sure it was safe, he said, the researchers had tested it on themselves.

Last month, Mr. Putin, with great fanfare, said Russia had approved Gamaleya’s vaccine, making it the first country to sign off on one amid a global race to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Moscow’s self-declared victory has been greeted with skepticism among scientists and Western politicians. Russian researchers have completed only early-stage tests on 76 volunteers and published none of their findings. Large-scale trials on 40,000 volunteers began only last week.

Vadim Tarasov, who oversaw trials of the vaccine at Moscow’s Sechenov University, maintains the shot is safe. “How effective it is, is another question,” he said.

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