Russia plans to begin the first mass deliveries of its coronavirus vaccine in September, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Monday.
Russia has registered the Sputnik V adenoviral vector-based vaccine and is touting it as the world’s first despite it not having undergone large-scale trials to prove its safety and effectiveness. Russia is one of several countries racing to develop a proven vaccine against the disease that has infected 25.4 million and killed more than 850,000 people worldwide.
“First deliveries in large quantities will begin in September,” Murashko was quoted as saying by the state-run TASS news agency.
The health minister said production was underway in parallel with post-registration monitoring of the vaccine’s effectiveness.
A mass vaccination campaign will begin among Russian volunteers in October, a month after industrial production is expected to launch, according to the head of the national sovereign fund paying for the vaccination project.
“The vaccine will be first and foremost shipped to health workers and teachers,” Murashko said, adding that the vaccination will be “completely voluntary.”
Some 2,500 out of 40,000 volunteers have been recruited for Phase 3 trials of the vaccine so far, he said.
“Several more vaccines are going through registration. We’ll reach maximum capacities in November-December,” Murashko said.
Russia says more than 20 countries have requested over 1 billion doses of the Sputnik V vaccine despite safety concerns.
Western scientists have raised concerns over the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners after coming under pressure from the authorities to deliver. Russia has dismissed the criticism as an attempt to undermine its research.
Sputnik V is expected to enter civilian circulation on Jan. 1, 2021, according to a registration certificate on the Russian Health Ministry’s website.
Russia to Soften Visa Policy for Tourists, Relatives of Russians
Russian lawmakers have moved toward easing visa rules for tourists and relatives of Russian citizens.
The reforms introduced last week will allow foreign tourists with valid hotel bookings to stay in Russia for up to six months, up from the current maximum visa stay of one month.
Relatives of Russian citizens will be able to obtain simplified visas valid for up to 12 months, up from the current three months, and will be permitted to stay in the country while applying for renewals.
The new visa policy will also allow Russian citizens to apply for their relatives’ entry through a diplomatic mission without requesting an invitation through the Interior Ministry.
The State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, passed both pieces of legislation submitted by the government last Wednesday. They are tentatively scheduled for the second of three needed Duma votes sometime in April.
The bills will then need a single vote from the upper-house Federation Council and President Vladimir Putin’s signature to come into effect.
Current coronavirus restrictions limit travel to and from Russia to a handful of countries where daily case numbers are deemed safe.