Kazakhstan secures supplies of Russian COVID-19 vaccine candidate

A medical specialist walks at the coronavirus disease testing facility in Almaty

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan has signed a deal to get supplies of Russia's first potential COVID-19 vaccine once clinical trials are complete, the Central Asian nation's government and the backers of the Russian project said on Wednesday.

Under the deal, Kazakhstan will buy more than 2 million doses initially and could later increase the volume to 5 million doses, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) that is backing the vaccine said in a statement.

The sides did not disclose the price of the deal. The Nur-Sultan government said the vaccine would be made available to at-risk Kazakh citizens free of charge.

The vaccine, called "Sputnik V" in homage to the world's first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, has been hailed as safe and effective by Russian authorities and scientists following two months of small-scale human trials.

But Western experts have been more sceptical, warning against its use until all internationally approved testing and regulatory steps have been seen to be taken and proved a success.

The backers of the Russian project said last week they were starting large-scale trials of the vaccine that would involve more than 40,000 people and would be overseen by a foreign research body.

(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)