Britain would be likely to reject a potentially game-changing coronavirus vaccine from Russia amid strong reservations about the trial process there, the Telegraph can reveal.
That approach chimes with the US, where Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease official, raised doubts about the testing regimes for potential vaccines in both Russia and China. There are strict international protocols governing the development of new drugs.
Russia has claimed it is close to rolling out the world’s first vaccine against Covid-19, the key development in beating the global pandemic. Moscow has boasted it is a ‘Sputnik moment’, when the Soviet Union astonished the US by making it into space first with its 1957 satellite.
Russia’s health minister Mikhail Murashko said on Saturday that the Gamaleya Institute, a state research facility, had completed clinical trials. Doctors and teachers would be the first to be vaccinated. "We plan wider vaccinations for October," Murashko was quoted as saying.
But Dr Fauci told a Congressional hearing late on Friday that it was unlikely the US would make use of either a Russian or Chinese vaccine if they became available first. He also predicted that an American vaccine would be available by the end of the year.
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; the last by Germany's BioNTech with US pharmaceutical Pfizer.
Dr Fauci said: "I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone. Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic, at best.
"We are going very quickly. I do not believe that there will be vaccines, so far ahead of us, that we will have to depend on other countries to get us vaccines."
The British take a similar view to the Americans. One source said: “We would use a vaccine if we trusted the data.” Crucially, though, it depended, the source said, on how open the Russians or Chinese were about the vaccines’ development. International backing from scientists was also vital.
Russia has released no scientific data proving the vaccines' safety or efficacy, and so fall foul of the source’s stipulations. With the British plans, details have already been published in The Lancet.
Public health experts are clear it would be impossible for the British to accept a vaccine from another country without all internationally recognised protocols being met. These cover the ethics of testing and transparency, and require the full release of data for peer review.
Azeem Majeed, Professor of Primary Care at Imperial College London, said: “We have strict and rigorous processes. It is unthinkable that the government would relax those rules.”
Professor Majeed said some countries, desperate to find a quick solution, might be tempted to turn a blind eye to agreed protocols. But he believed that the US, the UK or Germany would win the race to produce the first vaccine for international use.
Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter’s Medical School said: “No government will adopt a product that has not passed international scrutiny. It would be an act of supreme folly.”
Chinese media last month announced a coronavirus vaccine was being used to immunise the Chinese military - making it the first approved for people. Professor Majeed said there were clear ethical issues in the army being used effectively as guinea pigs.
China and Russia both stand accused of attempting to steal Western coronavirus research. They deny the allegations.