In Brief

Russian elite using experimental coronavirus vaccine since April

Kremlin-linked tycoons and political figures given early access to potential Covid-19 jab

Russia’s political and business elite have reportedly been given early access to a coronavirus vaccine that has been in use since April.

Sources familiar with the country’s bid to develop the first Covid inoculation told Bloomberg that top executives, billionaire tycoons and government officials have been getting the shots, developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute in Moscow.

The vaccine project is being financed by the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund and supported by the Defence Ministry. Insiders say the jab is “a so-called viral vector vaccine”, combining “human adenovirus - a common cold virus” with “the spike protein of SARS CoV-2” to create an immune response, according to the news agency. 

The vaccine is expected to be ready for distribution in Russia by September, with initial trials involving military personnel completed last week, The Times says. 

The Gamaleya Institute “hasn’t published results for the study, which involved about 40 people, but has begun the next stage of testing with a larger group”, adds Bloomberg.

Dozens of “well-connected Russians” have reportedly volunteered for doses of the experimental vaccine, but “none would allow their names to be published”.

However, executives at Rusal, the aluminium giant founded by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are understood to be among those receiving the vaccine. Whether Deripaska, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, has used the drug personally is unclear.

Such testing is legal, but is said to have been “kept under wraps to avoid a crush of potential participants”.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has claimed not to know the names of anyone receiving the institute’s vaccine. Asked if President Putin has had the jab, Peskov told reporters that “it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to use an uncertified vaccine on the head of state”.

Although the effectiveness of the new vaccine has yet to be proven, the jab is based on proven vaccines for other diseases and as such should be “safe”, according to Sergei Netesov, a former executive at Vector, a state-run virology centre in Siberia that is also working on an inoculation.

But “those who take it do so at their own risk”, he added.

Putin has made “finding a vaccine a top priority”, though “some Western experts remain skeptical that Russia has the expertise to produce its own vaccine by September”, reports Fortune

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