Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday Israel is interested in holding discussions with Russia about its claims it has developed a working, ready-for-use coronavirus vaccine.
His remarks came after Russian President Vldamiri Putin earlier in the day announced that his country had completed development of a vaccine, and that he had even seen it administered to his family.
Russian officials have said that large-scale production of the vaccine will start in September, and mass vaccination may begin as early as October.
Many scientists have reacted with skepticism, however, questioning the 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 and coming under pressure from authorities to deliver.
The World Health Organization said any WHO stamp of approval on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate would require a rigorous safety data review.
“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” said the UN agency’s spokesman Tarik Jasarevic in Geneva.
Edelstein told reporters: “We have already arranged discussions about the research center in Russia and the development of a vaccine. If we are convinced that it is a genuine product then we will try to enter into negotiations.”
Edelstein spoke as he toured a factory in the southern border town of Sderot that manufactures N95 face masks.
The minister said Israel has previously signed deals with two companies in the hope that they also can develop vaccines.
“We closely monitor any news and we check the publications, no matter in which country,” Edelstein said.
“The vaccine will not come tomorrow,” he continued. “There is still no vaccine that has gone through all the required steps and received the required approvals.”
Earlier Putin said that Russia had developed the first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus.
“This morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus was registered” in Russia, he said during a televised video conference call with government ministers.
Moscow’s Health Ministry said that the vaccine was expected to provide immunity from the coronavirus for up to two years.
“I know it has proven efficient and forms a stable immunity, and I would like to repeat that it has passed all the necessary tests,” Putin said, emphasizing that vaccination will be voluntary. “We must be grateful to those who made that first step very important for our country and the entire world.”
“One of my daughters had this vaccine. I think in this sense she took part in the experiment,” Putin said.
The Russian president said that his daughter had a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) on the day of the first vaccine injection, and then it dropped to just over 37 degrees (98.6 Fahrenheit) on the following day. After the second shot she again had a slight increase in temperature, but then it was all over.
“She’s feeling well and has a high number of antibodies,” Putin added. He didn’t specify which of his two daughters — Maria or Katerina — received the vaccine.
Russia has been pushing hard to quickly develop a coronavirus vaccine and said earlier this month it hoped to launch mass production within weeks and turn out “several million” doses per month by next year. It is the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine.
Russian authorities have said that medical workers, teachers and other at-risk groups will be the first to be inoculated.
Professor Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine, said that vaccination will start while the Phase 3 trials continue. He said that initially there will be only enough doses to conduct vaccination in 10-15 of Russia’s 85 regions, according to the Interfax news agency.
The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilization of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.
Russia has registered 897,599 coronavirus cases, including 15,131 deaths.
When the pandemic struck Russia, Putin ordered state officials to shorten the time of clinical trials for potential coronavirus vaccines.
Becoming the first country in the world to develop a vaccine was a matter of national prestige for the Kremlin as it tries to assert the image of Russia as a global power. State television stations and other media have praised scientists working on it and presented the work as the envy of other nations.
Experts have warned that vaccines that are not properly tested can cause harm in many ways — from a negative impact on health to creating a false sense of security or undermining trust in vaccinations.