MOSCOW — Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective at protecting people from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) according to interim trial results, the country’s sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday, as Moscow rushes to keep pace with Western drugmakers in the race for a shot.
Russia’s results are only the second from a late-stage human trial, following on swiftly from data released on Monday by Pfizer, Inc and BioNTech, which said their shot was also more than 90% effective.
While experts said the Russian data was encouraging and reinforced the idea the pandemic could be halted by vaccines, they warned that the results were only based on a small number of trial volunteers who had contracted COVID-19.
The analysis was conducted after 20 participants developed the virus and examined how many had received the vaccine versus a placebo. That is significantly lower than the 94 infections in the trial of the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
“I assume there was political pressure after the press release from Pfizer and BioNTech earlier in the week to now draw level with their own data,” said Bodo Plachter, deputy director of the Institute of Virology at the Mainz University. “What is missing for now is an analysis of statistical significance.”
To confirm the efficacy rate of its vaccine, Pfizer said it would continue its trial until there were 164 COVID-19 cases.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has been backing Sputnik V’s development, said the Russian trial would continue for six months.
Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine, said the interim results demonstrated that Sputnik V was effective and mass vaccinations would be rolled out in Russia in the coming weeks.
In later comments, aired by Rossiya-24 state TV channel, he said at least 1.5 million people in Russia were expected to receive the shot by the end of the year. He added that around 40,000 to 45,000 Russians had already been vaccinated.
European stocks and US stock futures extended their gains slightly after Russia’s announcement though the reaction was far more muted than after Pfizer’s results.
China’s Sinopharm, which is running large-scale late-stage clinical trials for two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, said on Wednesday that its data was better than expected, though it did not give further details.
Successful vaccines are seen as a crucial to restoring daily life around the world by helping end the pandemic that has killed more than 1.26 million people, shuttered businesses and put millions out of work.
However, experts said knowledge about the Russian trial’s design was sparse, making it hard to interpret the data.
Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Moscow has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for the shot and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.
“This is not a competition. We need all trials to be carried out to the highest possible standards and it is particularly important that the pre-set criteria for unblinding the trial data are adhered to avoid cherry picking the data,” said Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh.
“Anything less than this risks a public loss of trust in all vaccines, which would be a disaster.” — Reuters