Exclusive: Russia's COVID-19 vaccine trial slows as focus shifts to second dose

Polina Ivanova and Gleb Stolyarov
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: A medic of the regional hospital receives Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine shot against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tver
FILE PHOTO: A medic of the regional hospital receives Russia's "Sputnik-V" vaccine shot against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tver

By Polina Ivanova and Gleb Stolyarov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has temporarily paused the vaccination of new volunteers in its COVID-19 vaccine trial, staff at eight of 25 trial clinics said, with some citing high demand and a shortage of doses.

However, the vaccine's developer said the uptake of new participants had only slowed.

At eight of the 25 Moscow clinics hosting the trial and inoculating volunteers, staff told Reuters the vaccination of new participants was temporarily on hold, and several said they had used up the doses allocated to their clinics, referencing a large influx of volunteers.

At three of the Moscow clinics running the trial, staff said they had run out specifically of the first component of the two-dose jab. The second component is injected 21 days after the first.

"Vaccination is temporarily suspended. We are only injecting the second component," a staff member at Moscow Clinic #109 told Reuters, adding the first component ran out around a week ago.

The director of the Gamaleya Institute, which developed and is manufacturing the vaccine, said the decision to slow the uptake of new volunteers was due to a new focus on giving those already vaccinated a second dose, the RIA news agency reported.

"Everything is on track. It's simply that the gap between (the number of people inoculated with) the first and second dose is quite significant," Alexander Gintsburg was cited by RIA as saying. He said the total number of daily inoculations had not changed, the Interfax news agency reported.

'COLOSSAL DEMAND'

Gintsburg said 20,000 volunteers had received the first shot so far and 9,000 the second. The need to now reduce the number of people receiving the first component was due to the capacity of the clinics hosting the trial.

"It's related to the fact that there's colossal demand for the vaccine and they are not producing enough to keep up," said a representative of Crocus Medical, the contract research organisation helping oversee the trial in Moscow together with Russia's health ministry. The person did not give his name.

According to provisional information, vaccinations will restart by around Nov. 10, he said. A re-start of first dose vaccinationsaround this time was also mentioned at two of the eight clinics contacted by Reuters.

"Try again next week!" prospective volunteers were told at a vaccination trial centre in Moscow's Chertanovo district, a Reuters reporter heard staff announce on Tuesday.

Crocus Medical's director Alexei Butylin denied that the trial had been paused. "The trial continues, and there are enough supplies of vaccine."

Russian officials and vaccine developers have previously flagged challenges in ramping up output of the vaccine, known as Sputnik V, and initial estimates of 30 million doses to be produced by year-end were revised down earlier this month by the industry minister to just over 2 million doses.

Earlier on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said Russia was facing challenges scaling up production of the vaccine due to problems with equipment availability, but hoped to start mass vaccinations by the end of the year.

Alexei Kuznetsov, aide to Russia's health minister, said the human trial of the vaccine was continuing. "The target of 40,000 vaccinated volunteers will be met," he said.

The Gamaleya Institute is gradually joining forces with private Russian pharmaceutical firms, which are gearing up to mass produce the shot at their plants.

(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Polina Ivanova, Vladimir Soldatkin, and Polina Nikolskaya; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Anton Zverev, Josephine Mason and Mark Potter)