President Vladimir Putin said Russia cleared the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine for use and hopes to begin mass inoculation soon, even before clinical testing has finished.
“The first registration has taken place,” Putin said Tuesday at a televised government meeting, adding that one of his daughters has already been given the vaccine. “I hope that we can soon begin mass production.”
The move paves the way for widespread use of the vaccine among Russia’s population, with production starting next month, although it may take until January to complete trials. Medical workers could begin receiving the drug by the end of the month, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said at the meeting.
The announcement represents a propaganda coup for the Kremlin amid a global race to develop vaccines against the coronavirus pandemic and accusations that Russian hackers sought to steal international drug research. The disease has killed nearly 750,000 people, infected more than 20 million and crippled national economies. Companies including AstraZeneca Plc and Moderna Inc. are still conducting final-stage trials of their vaccines in studies that are expected to soon yield results.
“Making a vaccine available before even publishing something in a peer-reviewed journal is a violation of Basic Vaccinology 101,” said Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine. “What they are doing is dangerous and grossly immoral.”
Russia indicated how it regards the development, naming the vaccine Sputnik V in a nod to the Soviet Union’s achievement in launching the world’s first satellite into space in 1957.
Russia has nearly 900,000 people diagnosed with COVID-19, the fourth-most confirmed cases in the world. It had more than 27,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the second quarter, according to Federal Statistics Service data published this week.
The speed with which the vaccine has received regulatory approval has drawn criticism, with a local association of multinational pharmaceutical companies calling the rushed registration risky.
“This is a political decision by Putin so he can claim that Russia was the first in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Svetlana Zavidova, executive director of Russia’s Association of Clinical Trials Organizations. “I can’t understand why Russia needs to build this Potemkin village.”
The vaccine is being developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, the Defense Ministry and the sovereign Russian Direct Investment Fund, which have said it is undergoing Phase 3 trials, the final stage of testing during which thousands of people are inoculated to determine its fitness for use. A World Health Organization database lists the vaccine as still only in Phase 1 testing, the earliest stage.
RDIF chief Kirill Dmitriev has dismissed criticism that the developers haven’t published peer-reviewed results.
“This vaccine platform has been tried for the last six years, and this makes it very different from many novel approaches used by some other players,” Dmitriev said in an interview on Bloomberg TV, adding that 100 people were involved in the first two phases. “President Putin mentioned his daughter took the vaccine. Myself, my wife, my parents were also vaccinated.”
RDIF will be able to produce more than 500 million doses a year in five countries, with mass immunizations in Russia planned to begin in October, according to Dmitriev.
The fund plans to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, India and the Philippines, according to the Sputnik V website. Mass production is lined up in India, South Korea, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Cuba, it said, with at least 20 countries interested in obtaining supplies.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said last week that all vaccine candidates should adhere to established practices and finish clinical trials before being made widely available.
The Russian candidate is a viral vector vaccine based on a human adenovirus —such as the common cold virus — fused with the spike protein of SARS CoV-2 to stimulate an immune response and is similar to one developed by China’s CanSino Biologics.
“Giving powerful people the first access doesn’t instill confidence, it illustrates how unfair and not scientific this project is,” said NYU’s Caplan. “This is indicative of the problems that emerge when politics drive vaccine science.”
Chinese Government Demolished Swedish Missionaries’ Gravestones
China– The Shanxi government destroyed more than 20 Swedish missionaries’ gravestones in their designated cemetery on September 12. An adjoining house for visitors was demolished as well.
The Swedish missionary cemetery in Xiezhou town, administered by the Yanhu district of Yuncheng, a prefecture-level city in the northern province of Shanxi, is the resting place for many of the missionaries sent by the Swedish Mission in China (Svenska Missionen i Kina (SMK)) in the early 1900s.
According to Bitter Winter, SMK missionaries’ charitable work building schools and hospitals, free of charge for locals, played an important role in the areas’ development and led numerous to Christianity.
“Swedish missionaries bought a plot in Yuncheng’s Xiezhou town cemetery for themselves,” an elderly Christian from Yuncheng told Bitter Winter. “This meant that they devoted their hearts, souls, and entire lives to China.”
Earlier this year, a local house church, the Church of Christ’s Family (CCF), contacted the offspring of one of the deceased missionaries and made 20 gravestones for the Swedish servants, in remembrance of their work and contribution. A house nearby was renovated to show the history of SMK and the missionaries’ footprints.
All the efforts put to honor these missionaries were nullified on September 12, as the Yanhu district government dispatched over 100 special police and public security officers to block the street leading to the cemetery. Those who tried to document this demolition were threatened and told to leave immediately, as an aerial drone hovered above them.
About two hours later, under the charge of “illegal constructions,” three excavators were brought in to desecrate the Swedish missionaries’ gravestones and the adjoining house. To conceal the demolition, the local authorities planted vegetation atop the ruins overnight.
Residents nearby the site and CCF leaders were removed in advance and banned from using their cell phones to report the incident. CCF is also now placed under surveillance for contacting the late Swedish missionary’s family.
The Chinese Communist Party’s attitude towards missionaries in China is becoming like that of North Korea, where it only wants to wipe out their contribution and stigmatize their work.
Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff
Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions on Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives given the Vatican’s official teaching on the issue.
The papal thumbs-up to same-sex civil unions came midway through the feature-length documentary ‘Francesco’ that had its debut screening at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.
The film, which includes fresh interviews with the pontiff, looks into the issues that mean the most to Pope Francis, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
ILGA Europe, an association that promotes the interests of LGBTI people, gave the pontiff’s words a cautious welcome.
“In the context where there is so much polarisation and scapegoating of LGBTI people, often endorsed and stoked by religious leaders, Pope Francis’ statement on same-sex unions is to be welcomed and should be carefully listened to,” the organisation said on Twitter. “We will monitor closely to see in how far the statement will be picked up by the churches and will lead to real change for LGBTI people and their families.”
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who has sought to build bridges with gays in the church, praised the comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”
“The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement.
However, US conservative Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, called for clarification. “The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions,” he said in a statement. “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”
Catholic teaching holds that gays must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 2003 document from the Vatican’s doctrine office stated the church’s respect for gays “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone “deviant behavior,” but create an equivalence to marriage, which the church holds is an indissoluble union between man and woman.
That document was signed by the then-prefect of the office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI and Francis’ predecessor.
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favour of civil unions as pope.
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