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Hadassah hospital orders 1.5 million as-yet-unproven Russian virus vaccines

CEO Rotstein says medical center will seek Israeli Health Ministry approval, and will offer doses if trials show it is safe and effective

A new vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia, August 6, 2020.  (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP)
A new vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia, August 6, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP)

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center has preordered 1.5 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine from Russia, where it is still in Phase 3 trials but has already been administered to tens of thousands of people.

CEO Zeev Rotstein said that the medical center would apply this week for Health Ministry permission to eventually use the vaccine in Israel, if the trials in Russia prove it is safe and can prevent infection, Haaretz reported Wednesday.

“There is a pretty good probability that the vaccine is safe and a reasonable probability… that it is also effective,” he said, but noted the full picture will only be clear when all the data is available at the end of the Russian trial, which is nearing completion.

“The safety results we saw were very good,” he said.

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Hospital during a press conference at the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The purchase is being backed by a group of investors and will not impact the hospital’s regular budget, he said.

If all goes well, the vaccine, named Sputnik V, could be available in Israel within two to three months, according to the report.

Rotstein said that Hadassah is high up on the list of those ordering the Russian vaccine, though he admitted he is not sure if the entire lot will be delivered. A request to purchase a further a 1.5 million vaccines has not yet been approved by Russian authorities.

If the Health Ministry gives approval to Sputnik V in Israel, Hadassah will sell the vaccines to the state, to health maintenance organizations and other medical bodies, he said.

Hadassah Medical Center in Moscow, a branch of the Israeli hospital, is involved in the administration and monitoring of the Phase 3 vaccine trial, which began in August. Rotstein said Russian authorities had asked Hadassah to file the paperwork for approval with Israel’s Health Ministry.

Russia was the first country to register a vaccine when it announced it had a ready-to use product in August. At the time, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that Israel would be interested in talking with Russia about the vaccine, if it is shown to work.

Many scientists have reacted with skepticism, however, questioning the Russian decision to register the vaccine before Phase 3 trials that normally last for months and involve thousands of people. Some have suggested researchers might be cutting corners amid pressure from authorities to deliver.

While he admitted there is always a possibility that the Russians “are messing with us,” Rotstein said he knows senior Russian officials who received the vaccine “and they didn’t grow horns. They are walking around without masks.”

Rotstein has dismissed worries over the vaccine, saying they are largely rooted in the contest between the US and Russia to be first to deliver.

A Russian medical worker administers a shot of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, September 15, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

The Russian vaccine deal came as Israel pushes ahead with Phase 1 trials in its own research for a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Israel is producing the domestic vaccine as a backup plan while it conducts negotiations with pharmaceutical firms further ahead in the development process to receive doses when they become available.

Last Monday, the Defense Ministry announced that Israel had begun mass-producing the potential coronavirus vaccine and plans to distribute it to both Israelis and Palestinians if it is approved for use.

The director of the state-run Israel Institute for Biological Research, Shmuel Shapira, said it will produce 15 million doses in the first stage and estimated the shot could be ready by July.

Sheba Medical Center nurse Hala Litwin injects an experimental coronavirus vaccine into Israel’s first human test subject, Segev Harel, on November 1, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

In October Israel closed a deal to buy a future vaccine from Italy.

The agreement was reached while Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi hosted his Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio, for the first time for talks in Jerusalem.

In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had signed a deal with Moderna for a future coronavirus vaccine, and last month Moderna’s Israeli chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks, predicted the Jewish state would receive its COVID-19 vaccine before June 2021.

Experts warn that even when vaccines are approved, it will take many months until they are widely available. And unlike vaccines against other diseases such as measles, experts believe COVID-19 vaccines, when they come, will fall far short of 100 percent effectiveness.

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