Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Tuesday that he has serious doubts about Russia’s announcement that it has a vaccine ready to be used for the novel coronavirus.
“Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things,” Fauci said during a panel discussion with National Geographic.
Putin said that the vaccine went through clinical testing and that it had proven to offer immunity to the deadly disease, which has infected more than 20 million people worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.
However, phase three trials for the drug have reportedly not been completed, triggering skepticism from international health experts about its usefulness.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said that he had seen no evidence supporting Putin’s position.
“I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” he said, adding that Americans need to understand that the process for gaining vaccine approval requires safety and efficacy.
More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world as part of efforts to offer immunity protection for the coronavirus. Moderna, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, launched a phase three trial for a vaccine in July, making it the first U.S. candidate to reach that stage.
Fauci has said that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of the year. He told a House committee on July 31 that he was encouraged by everything he’s seen in the early data but that “there’s never a guarantee that you’re going to get a safe and effective vaccine.”
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that it was monitoring Russia’s progress in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Progress in combating the virus “should not compromise safety,” the health agency said.
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb echoed Fauci’s skepticism earlier Tuesday, noting in a tweet that Russia has been behind disinformation campaigns related to the pandemic.
“Today’s news that they ‘approved’ a vaccine on the equivalent of phase 1 data may be another effort to stoke doubts or goad U.S. into forcing early action on our vaccines,” he said.
Russia is reportedly planning to offer its COVID-19 vaccine to medical personnel as soon as this month. It will be made available to the general public in October, according to Reuters.