Scores of members of Russia’s business and political elite have been given early access to an experimental vaccine against Covid-19, according to people familiar with the effort, as the country races to be among the first to develop an inoculation.
Top executives at companies including aluminum giant United Co. Rusal, as well as billionaire tycoons and government officials began getting shots developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute in Moscow as early as April, the people said. They declined to be identified as the information isn’t public.
The Gamaleya vaccine financed by the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund and backed by the military, last week completed a phase 1 trial involving Russian military personnel. The institute hasn’t published results for the study, which involved about 40 people, but has begun the next stage of trials with a larger group.
Gamaleya’s press office couldn’t be reached by phone Sunday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t respond to a text message asking whether President Vladimir Putin or others in his administration have had the shots. A government spokesman couldn’t immediately comment.
Russia has reported more than 750,000 cases of Covid-19, the fourth-largest total in the world, and Gamaleya’s program is on a faster track than many rivals in the West. RDIF chief Kirill Dmitriev said last week phase 3 trials will start Aug. 3 and include thousands of people in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with the vaccine distributed nationally as early as September. Western researchers typically run phase 3 trials for months to better understand safety and effectiveness.