Russia Approves Coronavirus Vaccine Before Completing Tests

The Four Percent

MOSCOW — A Russian health care regulator has become the first in the world to approve a vaccine for the coronavirus, President Vladimir V. Putin announced on Tuesday, though the vaccine has yet to complete clinical trials.

The Russian dash for a vaccine has already raised international concerns that Moscow is cutting corners on testing to score political and propaganda points.

Mr. Putin’s announcement came despite a caution last week from the World Health Organization that Russia should not stray from the usual methods of testing a vaccine for safety and effectiveness.

Mr. Putin’s announcement became essentially a claim of victory in the global race for a vaccine, something Russian officials have been telegraphing for several weeks now despite the absence of published information about any late-phase testing.

Western regulators have said repeatedly that they do not expect a vaccine to become widely available before the end of the year at the earliest. Regulatory approval in Russia, well ahead of that timeline, could become a symbol of national pride and provide a lift for Mr. Putin, whose popularity ratings have fallen steadily under the weight of the pandemic and a faltering economy.

Russia has already used the vaccine race as a propaganda tool, even in the absence of published scientific evidence to support its claims as the front-runner.

For the last several months, state television has promoted the idea that Russia is leading the competition. In May, it reported that the first person in the world to be vaccinated against the virus was a Russian researcher who had injected himself even before monkey trials had been completed.

Russia tested the vaccine on soldiers, raising concerns about consent, though the Ministry of Defense said that all the soldiers had volunteered.

The United States, Canadian and British governments have all accused Russian state hackers of trying to steal vaccine research, casting a shadow over Russia’s claim to have achieved a medical breakthrough. Russian officials have denied the accusation and say their vaccine is based on a design developed by Russian scientists to counter Ebola years ago.

Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a government-controlled fund that invested in the vaccine, denied Russia had cut corners on testing or stolen intellectually property to get ahead.

In an interview last month, Mr. Dmitriev said Russia relied on a legacy of once formidable research into viruses and vaccines in the Soviet Union and focused on established technologies, like the approach already used for the Ebola vaccine.

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