Hadassah head reveals Israel’s role in Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine

Scientists develop a vaccine against the coronavirus disease in Saint Petersburg
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday his was the first country to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine.

Hadassah-University Medical Center will help test a vaccine for coronavirus that Russia says it has developed, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, its director-general, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday
“We are playing a part in conducting safety and efficacy studies,” he said, adding that Israel is recruiting hospitals to collaborate in the clinical trials, and Hadassah’s branch in Skolkovo, Moscow’s self-styled Silicon Valley, has volunteered.
“We expect to hear more information from the mayor of Moscow in a very short period of time,” Rotstein said. “We are in direct contact with our people in Moscow, and we are getting information as it is available.”
On Tuesday, Russia announced it would approve a COVID-19 vaccine after less than two months of human testing. The message prompted alarm among global health experts, who said with no full trial data, the vaccine is hard to trust. Russia’s health minister dismissed those claims on Wednesday.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel was interested in holding discussions with Russia about its vaccine.
“We are following vigilantly every report, no matter what country,” he said during a press conference on Tuesday. “We have already discussed the reports from the research center in Russia about the vaccine’s development.”
“If we are convinced that it is a serious product, then we will try to enter into negotiations,” Edelstein said. “But I don’t want to delude anyone. The ministry’s professional staff is working on this all the time. The vaccine will not come tomorrow.”
Rotstein told the Post Israel should not be so quick to dismiss the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
“I strongly recommend that the authorities in Israel not focus only on the American companies that are manufacturing vaccines and not neglect the ability of Russian scientists,” he said. “I would have recommended that the foreign minister be in contact with the foreign minister of Russia... to not exclude the possibility that the vaccine be allocated to Israel too.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said large-scale production would begin in September, and the vaccination could be available for use by tens of thousands of people by October.
Rotstein said it was “not right to be skeptical. There are a lot of accusations regarding Russian technology and science. But if you remember, the fact that they called it Sputnik V is to say to the world, ‘Remember who was first in space.’ Russia could be very advanced.”
Specifically, Sputnik V is in reference to the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, launched during the space race at the height of the Cold War. Russian state television framed the worldwide effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine as a similar race. Putin this week declared his country the winner.
Rotstein said the Russian vaccine is based on the coronavirus itself and not “just mRNA,” such as Moderna’s, which he said means “it might not only be a good vaccine, but also a less-risky one because it is based on the same technology as other antiviral vaccines.”
Moderna’s mRNA vaccine takes a novel approach that has never been licensed for human use.
The most common vaccines are live vaccines that use a weakened form of the germ that causes a disease. Because these vaccines are so similar to the natural infection they help prevent, they create a strong and long-lasting immune response.
“Remember, there are senior Jewish scientists participating [in the development of coronavirus vaccines] everywhere, not just in the US – also in Russia,” Rotstein said.
Israel is developing its own vaccine through the Israel Institute for Biological Research, which is supposed to start human trials in October. The country has signed agreements with Moderna and Arcturus Therapeutics for the option to buy their vaccine candidates, which have already begun human trials.
Reuters contributed to this report.

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