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Russian Covid-19 vaccine approved despite doctors falling ill after injection

Russia is still resisting a full national lockdown in the hope of preserving the national economy, and leader Vladimir Putin in pinning all his hopes on the "world-beating" Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

But there have been questions raised after three doctors involved in an early rollout of Sputnik V reportedly contracted Covid-19 after receiving the vaccine.

Sputnik V is a two-stage vaccine, with two injections administered three weeks apart.

A statement from the Ministry of Health in Russia’s Altai Territory, where the vaccinations took place, says that 42 frontline medical staff had been vaccinated and the three who caught the virus must have done so in the period between the injections before immunity had time to develop.

Altai region’s chief infection doctor Irina Pereladova explained: "No single vaccine guarantees that a person will not get infected, as they might be in the incubation period."

Justifying the early rollout of the vaccine, despite the fact that clinical trials are not 100% complete, she added: "This was our own decision to run the tests on our Altai doctors prior to vaccination. This was in fact a pure experiment."

A number of leading doctors, writing in the medical journal The Lancet, expressed concern at the speed with which the Russian jab was being rushed into production.

The Kremlin describes the rate of infection in Russia as "worrying". Over 20,000 new cases were announced by Russian health chiefs on Tuesday – and hospitals are struggling to manage the caseload in many regions.

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Andrei Shkoda, chief physician at Moscow Municipal Clinical Hospital No 67, told the BBC that the patients he is seeing in this new spike of infections tend to be younger… and sicker.

He explained: "In spring, everyone was afraid, so they came for help sooner. This new wave is probably because many people stopped taking precautions."

According to Russian researchers, the vaccine is 92% effective – well above the 50% threshold set by the US Food and Drug Administration.

"We are showing, based on the data, that we have a very effective vaccine," said Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund which is backing the jab and in charge of marketing it globally.

Dmitriev added that it was the sort of news that the vaccine’s developers would talk about one day with their grandchildren.

There are currently more than 100 Covid-19 vaccine candidates under development, according to the World Health Organisation [WHO], with a large number of these in the human trial phase.

The WHO has set up a special operation called COVAX which is tasked with worldwide distribution of effective vaccines, with a special priority of protecting those who have underlying health conditions that put them most at risk.

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