Science and politics tied up in global race for a coronavirus vaccine
The announcement on Tuesday by Russian president Vladimir Putin that his country was the first to approve a coronavirus vaccine has been met by doubts about the science and safety.
But it also underscored how the competition to have the first vaccine is about international rivalries as well as science.
The first nation to develop a way to defeat the novel coronavirus will achieve a kind of moonshot victory and the global status that goes along with it.
That is valuable to Putin, whose popularity at home has declined amid a stagnant economy and the ravages of the virus outbreak.
“To be the first one out of the block with a coronavirus vaccine would be a real — pardon the pun — shot in the arm for the Kremlin,” said Timothy Frye, a political science professor at Columbia University who specialises in post-Soviet politics.
Certainly, Russia is not alone in viewing a vaccine in this light.
China, where the virus first emerged, has also raced to make progress on a vaccine.
A state-owned Chinese company is boasting that its employees, including top executives, received experimental shots even before the government approved testing in people.
And president Donald Trump, whose handling of the coronavirus pandemic has put his political fate in grave jeopardy, is hoping to get credit for his government’s aggressive push for a vaccine.
It is far from clear at this point whether Putin has beaten Trump to this medical milestone.
Putin said the Health Ministry gave its approval after the vaccine underwent the necessary tests and said one of his two adult daughters had been inoculated.
“We should be grateful to those who have taken this first step, which is very important for our country and the whole world,” he said.
No proof was offered and scientists in Russia warned that more testing would be necessary to prove it is safe and effective.
Nonetheless, officials said vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month and mass vaccination may begin as early as October.
Scientists around the world have been cautioning that even if vaccine candidates are proven to work, it will take even more time to tell how long the protection will last.
“It’s a too early stage to truly assess whether it’s going to be effective, whether it’s going to work or not,” said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.
It was also too soon to dismiss the Russian claim out of hand.
The country, though economically dependent on the export of natural resources, does have a history of achievement in science, medicine and aerospace — including becoming the first to put a person into space, in 1961.
“It is possible that they concentrated and could do this,” said Daniel Fried, a retired senior US diplomat.
A vaccine would be the kind of significant achievement that would elevate Putin at home and in the international community.
It is also possible Russia had help.
The US, Britain and Canada last month accused hackers working for Russian intelligence of trying to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from academic and pharmaceutical research institutions.
We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support
The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.
The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.
So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.
Leave a ReplyYou must be logged in to leave a comment.Join the conversation
Please read our comment moderation policy here.