Russia said Wednesday that it plans to begin production of two «promising» coronavirus vaccines in September and October as Moscow races to develop a formula before Western countries.
At a meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova singled out two vaccines under development by a research institute in Moscow and a lab in Siberia.
«Today there are two vaccines that are the most promising,» Golikova said.
Production of the first, which is being tested by the Moscow-based Gamaleya institute and the defence ministry, is set for September, Golikova said.
Another vaccine being developed by the Vektor State labratory near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk should be launched in October, she added.
Russia, which has the world’s fourth-largest coronavirus caseload, hopes to be the first country to produce a vaccine.
Scientists in the West have raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners after coming under pressure from the authorities to deliver.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said it was important to achieve a finished product in a «careful and balanced way.»
«One should be absolutely certain in a vaccine,» he said.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund which is financing the Gamaleya trials, said the country hoped to be the first to approve a vaccine.
«It’s a Sputnik moment,» he told U.S. broadcaster CNN, referring to the launch in 1957 of the world’s first space satellite by Russia.
«Russia will have got there first,» Dmitriev forecast.
Russia has reported more than 828,000 coronavirus cases and 13,600 deaths so far.
Russia Tops 3 Million Covid-19 Infections
Russia on Saturday passed 3 million confirmed coronavirus infections, as authorities hold out against reimposing a national lockdown while the country is battered by a second wave.
Official figures showed that a total of 3,021,964 cases have been detected, with 54,226 deaths.
In the past 24 hours, 29,258 new infections and 567 deaths were registered in Russia, fourth on the list of hardest-hit countries worldwide.
Since winter began, each week has brought new records for new cases and deaths, with epicenters in capital Moscow and second-largest city St. Petersburg.
Poorer regions of the country, often less well-equipped with medical facilities, also report a troubling picture.
Nevertheless, official figures point to a lower death rate from the virus in Russia than in western Europe or the United States, something President Vladimir Putin has boasted about for months.
Putin said last week at an annual press conference that Russia had done a «better» job managing the pandemic than western countries.
But Russian authorities only count as Covid deaths those where an autopsy confirms the virus was the main cause.
Statistics agency Rosstat in October recorded 50,000 more deaths than in the same month last year.
And between March and October, there were 165,000 excess deaths compared with the same period in 2019, suggesting the true toll of the pandemic is far higher than authorities will admit.
Looking to protect a suffering economy, Moscow has so far refused to order a new nationwide lockdown, aiming instead to protect people with mass vaccinations using its homegrown Sputnik V shot.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on public TV Saturday that the vaccine is «safe and effective» for general use, authorizing it to be given to the over-60s.