Coronavirus vaccine: Short cuts and allegations of dirty tricks in race to be first
By Gordon Corera
When Moscow announced on 11 August it had registered the first vaccine against Covid-19 and was naming it Sputnik V, the message was hard to miss. Back in 1957, the Soviet Union had launched the Sputnik satellite and won the race for space. Now, Russia was saying it was pushing the boundaries of medical science.
But critics claimed it was pushing too hard. And the scepticism with which the announcement was met is a reminder of intense international competition. In this race, there have been accusations of short-cuts, espionage, unethical risk-taking and jealousy, amid talk of “vaccine nationalism”.
A Covid-19 vaccine is one of the most valuable and eagerly sought-after medical prizes in modern times. This is not just because of the life-saving benefits, but also the promise of ending disruption, and the glory and validation for those who succeed.
“I have never seen the political stakes for a medical product being so intense,” says Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University in the US. “The reason the Covid-19 vaccine has taken on such political symbolism is that the superpowers have seen the vaccine as projecting their scientific prowess, actually validating their political system as superior.”
There are currently about half a dozen leading candidates in late-stage trials according to the World Health Organization (WHO), including three in China; one in the UK; one in the US, and a German-US partnership.
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