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Israel’s Hadassah says it’s involved in development of Russian COVID-19 vaccine

Medical center’s CEO Zeev Rotstein says its clinic in Moscow is conducting trials that will ‘take time’; Putin has claimed vaccine ‘passed all the necessary tests’

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Hospital, speaks during a press conference to introduce the new medical team at the hospital's hemato-oncology department,  June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)
Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Hospital, speaks during a press conference to introduce the new medical team at the hospital's hemato-oncology department, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center is involved in the development of a Russian vaccine claimed Tuesday by Moscow to be the first in the world that works against COVID-19, the Hadassah organization’s CEO said.

In an interview with Radio 103FM, Prof. Zeev Rotstein said Hadassah’s clinic in Skolkovo, Moscow has been involved in the clinical safety trials of the vaccine.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” Rotstein said. “The Hadassah hospital is involved in the clinical research on the new Russian vaccine. It is being done in Moscow, in Skolkovo at the Hadassah hospital there. We are first of all checking the safety level, it will take time.”

Asked why Russian authorities have said the vaccine works while the trials are far from completion, Rotstein said Phase 3 trials were taking place “as is customary in the Western world,” simultaneously with the finalization of the vaccine.

He said that beyond the trials, the vaccine was also being administered to a limited number of patients via so-called “expanded use,” which normally involves offering patients in serious or life-threatening conditions experimental treatment before trials have been completed. It wasn’t clear how that would be done with a vaccine.

“We are operating in Moscow, under the name Hadassah, but as Russians, not as Israelis,” Rotstein said. “They are doing a good job. They work differently from us, and we are adapting ourselves to them.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on August 11, 2020. (Photo by Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP)

Russian President Vladimir 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.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit to the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel was interested in holding discussions with Russia about its claims it has developed the ready-for-use coronavirus vaccine.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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