Dr. Osterholm calls Russian coronavirus vaccine "A propaganda stunt"

"It's an experimental vaccine. It could backfire and be dangerous."

The Morning News with Dave Lee
August 12, 2020 - 8:41 am

Russia's claims that they've are the first country to develop and approve a coronavirus vaccine was met with speculation across the rest of the world over the last week.  Now, one of the country's top infectious disease experts is calling it a propaganda stunt.  

Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Michael Osterholm, talked to Dave Lee on the WCCO Morning News Wednesday, and he pulled no punches in saying this was not a viable vaccine.

"It's a propaganda stunt," Osterholm tells News Talk 830 WCCO. "There is no way that vaccine should be allowed to be used in the public. It's an experimental vaccine. It could backfire, yet it could be dangerous."

Osterholm says testing is the key difference between what the Russians are doing, and what the medical community in the United States is trying to accomplish. 

"That's one of the things we're working very hard on in this country," Osterholm says. "To assure that not only is the vaccine effective, but it's safe. And the public has to understand that what happens in Russia will not happen here. And I know many of my colleagues would tell you, there's no science behind what they're doing right now. It is all propaganda. The World Health Organization's has its own serious concerns. So, you know, they're basically experimenting on their own citizens in a way that we would never do in this country."

RELATED: Russia's race for virus vaccine raises concerns in the West.

So far, the Russian claims have not been backed up by significant data.  Osterholm says don't expect that to happen anytime soon.

"They haven't and in fact, they're still collecting that," Dr. Osterholm tells our Dave Lee. "They don't have the scientific data. That's the problem. They don't have safety data. Right now it's a roll out of a real life experiment. We just have to know that in six to 12 weeks, we'll start getting more data out of Russia. At least hopefully. But in the meantime, they're merely making this seem is if this is somehow a new effective vaccine when we don't have that information to support that at all."

Other U.S. experts have raised similar concerns.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease specialist, questioned the fast-track approach last week. “I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing a vaccine before they are administering the vaccine to anyone, because claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing I think is problematic at best," he said.

Despite the clamor to fast-track a vaccine, health professionals have warned that safely rolling out, and properly testing vaccines, is a time consuming process.  It appears the Russian vaccine skipped a significant part of the trial phase. 

Dr. David Hilden of Hennepin Healthcare told WCCO that while there's optimism on vaccine studies, people need to remain patient. "I think I've said before with you that I've never seen a vaccine developed within five years. And usually it takes years, or at least I'm not aware of too many where that's the case, and we're only months into this pandemic."

Dr. Osterholm also addressed the progress being made in the United States, including at both Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota, on antibodies. 

"What we're doing here is there's actually two ways to get at that.  One is a series of studies that you've heard about right here in Minnesota, where they're taking plasma, basically trying to capture the antibodies from people who have recovered from the disease, and use those to give to people who are currently infected and sick.

"The other one is actually making the antibodies in the lab using cells from machines, making this antibody. But either one works on the same principle of trying to get the antibody into an individual, much as your body would do if it were already present, and then reducing the severity of the illness and helping the patients recover."

Osterholm says there is still a lot of work to be done before they know if it will be truly effective.

"You know, like all the other therapies we have to look at, it makes sense that this might work. But I think we have to be very cautious. Some of the preliminary animal data that we've done in terms of animal studies would support that this hasn't been that effective. On the other hand, it may well be inhuman. So, like all of us, we want this data yesterday but we're gonna have to wait and see what the studies actually show us. Because there very well could be the chance that it works. But there's also could be a chance it doesn't work."

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