Russian COVID-19 vaccine: the misinformation, facts and Nigeria’s position

The recent revelation by Russia that the country had produced a COVID-19 vaccine spurred a series of misinformation in Nigeria  aboutRussia’s vaccine development.

On August 11, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had developed the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik-V

In the wake of the announcement, many Nigerians took to their social media platforms to spread misinformation. 

Misinformation in Nigeria on Russian COVID-19 vaccine

A twitter user,  Yemi Ajax, tweeted that  Nigeria is silent about the Sputnik-V because it was developed by Russia, but was quick to dismiss Madagascar’s cure as “a lie.”

The Post by Ajax on his Twitter handle, @yemiajax,  read: “Madagascar said they had a cure for Covid-19, the world and Nigeria said it’s a lie, Nigeria especially listed the composition of the herbal mixture and termed it a dongoyaro concoction. Russia said they have the vaccine for Covid-19, FG is silent, is it about the white supremacy?” 

In another post on the social media, Umar Sa’ad Hassan, said Russia should not worry about Nigerians cracking the formula of the Sputnik-V because the country has “quota based scientists.”

“Russia has a Covid-19 vaccine. Right now I can imagine their diplomats pondering on how best to build strong ties off it & the implications of giving to nations that can crack the formula. They won’t have a problem with Nigeria in that regard.We have quota based scientists,” he posted on his Twitter handle, @Alaye_100.

In the same vein, a twitter user, Cozee Eneye, said Nigeria has been babysitting COVID-19 pandemic and should reach out to Russia for the novel vaccine.

Eneye had tweeted on his Twitter handle, @iamCozee: “Nigeria better make a vaccine request to Russia and stop baby sitting Covid-19.”

The call for Nigeria to procure Russian COVID-19 vaccine even predated the eventual announcement of the birth of Sputnik-V.

In a social media postHakeem Aleshinloye shared a report published by the Russian News Agency, Tass, on July 12, 2020, indicating that clinical trials of vaccine against the novel coronavirus were completed on volunteers and then asked Nigeria to partner Russia.

“VACCINE: Russian university successfully completes human trials of its Covid-19 vaccine and says it is ‘safe.’ – TASS (Note: only 38 people were vaccinated) Nigeria must quickly partner Russia on Covid-19 vaccine. We must also not relent on local vaccines,” Aleshinloye wrote on his Twitter handle, @HakeemAleshinI1.

A pharmacist, Gariel Akwaja, posted on his facebook page, that Sputnik-V was “half done” and Russia should keep the vaccine.

Akwaja posted: “Sputnik V is not deserving of the flowery compliments elicited here by supposed well-meaning scientists when now its characterization is shrouded in opacity. No one should be carried away by the urgency pangs of the moment. Putin is a smart player in the field of ego warfare. If Mr Trump has been under fire by the politically motivated American media and associates the world over regarding an apparent or perceived rush to shunt science and place hydroxychloroquine or a vaccine on the table, why should Putin be spared even though he launched Sputnik V half-baked?”

Beyond these information, misinformation, and disinformation circulating on the social media in Nigeria, what are the facts about Russian COVID-19 vaccine and the Federal Government’s position on the vaccine?

Facts about Russian COVID-19 vaccine

Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, President Vladimir Putin on August 11, 2020, declared that Russia had developed the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine.

To ramp up public acceptance, President Putin told the world that one of his daughters had been given the vaccine, before adding that mass vaccination would start in October. 

The Director of the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Alexander Gintsburg, recently said Russia may be able to produce five million doses of its new COVID-19 vaccine monthly by December.

President Putin said the vaccine, which is named Sputnik-V, as a reference to Russia’s early success in the space race, is both safe and effective even as Forbes reported that the Russian approval of the vaccine precedes the completion of its Phase-III trials where it will be tested for both safety and efficacy involving thousands of participants.

However, there have been mixed reactions from experts across the globe on the efficacy or possible dangers of the vaccine.

For instance, the Deputy Head of the Anaesthesiology and Resuscitation Department at Moscow City Hospital 52, Sergei Tsarenko, said that the Russian vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute can be trusted.

“So far, resistance to the disease can only be formed if a person catches it and recovers. But there is also a safer option – immunisation. There is an effective and safe vaccine created by specialists from the Gamaleya Institute. In the microbiological community this institute is akin to ‘Mercedes’ in the automotive industry,” Tsarenko was quoted as saying by Sputnik.

Conversely, United States Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar, doubted Russia’s claim it had developed a COVID-19 vaccine ready for use, citing the lack of transparency in trials and data that would prove the vaccine to be effective. 

Speaking at a teleconference with reporters in Asia, Azar said that phase 3 trials for Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine – a process that usually takes months to complete – were only just beginning.

Similarly, Various experts from across the world have expressed doubts about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, pointing to the lack of data from human trials available as well as the limited size of the volunteers involved in the tests – about 76 people.

Hours after Russia condemned criticisms over its coronavirus vaccine, Iran has declared that the vaccine was dangerous.

The spokesperson of the Iranian Health Ministry,Kianush Jahanpur, has described Sputnik-V as “potentially dangerous.”

The scientific community has previously raised concerns about political interference in the vaccine development process, noting that the longer that vaccines are tested before being released, the likelier they are to be safe and effective.

Health experts warn that prematurely endorsing the vaccine – without transparent and published scientific data that prove its effectiveness – is a risky move that could backfire.

Nigeria’s position on Russian COVID-19 vaccine

The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha, recently disclosed that the Federal Government of Nigeria was studying the claims of Russia to a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

Mustapha said:  “Globally, the world continues to pursue the search for a vaccine with over 1000 trials on-going and different claims of levels of success. We note particularly, the announcement by the President of Russia on the breakthrough in the development of a vaccine, even as we study the developments.”

The President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Prof. Innocent Ujah, described the Russian vaccine as “a feat”. 

“It is excellent! This is a clear advancement in science in response to the global health pandemic, even if it is not as perfect.”

Prof. Ujah added that he would not subscribe to the notion that the trial was rushed. “We are not in the know when the whole process started and it will, therefore, be purely presumptuous. However, in this global health emergency, any safe and effective options could be accepted,” he said.

The Executive Director (ED)/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said Nigeria has not ordered for the vaccine.

On the question of Nigeria ordering for the vaccine, Dr. Shuaib said, “No. Nigeria has not ordered any vaccines from Russia.” 

This fact-check is a republished article from Daily Trust per our Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with newsrooms and media organisations.

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