Berlin Report: Race to develop COVID-19 vaccine leads to criticism that some countries are jumping the gun

The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is sowing discord as cases skyrocket. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson takes a closer look in the first part of this week’s Berlin Report.

Photo by Martin Lopez from Pexels


By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson


The race to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus is heating up, sowing discord as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last Tuesday that Russia had approved a vaccine after less than two months of testing on people led to a swift global backlash. German Health Minister Jens Spahn called the Russian action “dangerous.”

“It’s not, in any way, about who gets there first,” Spahn told German public radio Deutschlandfunk last Wednesday. “It’s about having an effective, proven and therefore safe vaccine” for hundreds of millions of people.

Spahn and other critics say the Russian developers skipped a critical step: Phase 3 trials, which involve widespread testing on humans.

“Given that vaccines are generally administered to healthy people, you would really want to know whether the product is safe,” Dr. Leif Erik Sander , an infectious disease physician at the Charite University Hospital in Berlin, told KCRW Berlin. “There are many examples of medicines and also vaccines that have completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials and then fail in the third phase because either they weren’t effective or there was a safety concern.”

Sander, who treats COVID-19 patients and researches the novel coronavirus, added that “it’s really not reasonable and not responsible to skip that crucial, Phase 3 trial and license a vaccine and have it administered to the general population.”

The World Health Organization has asked to review what the Russians refer to as “Sputnik V,” after the world’s first artificial satellite launched by the then Soviet Union on Oct. 4, 1957.

The Russian vaccine is not one of the six WHO has recognized as being furthest along in testing.

Spahn, meanwhile, predicted in an interview last Thursday with ZDF that a vaccine could be ready as soon as this year and certainly by next. That would be a welcome development in Germany where some scientists say a second wave of COVID-19 appears to have begun.

The 1,449 new daily cases last Thursday are the highest number since early May. On Monday morning, the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease prevention authority, reported an additional 561 new cases.

Learn more about the possible vaccines against the novel coronavirus and our interview with Dr. Sander on Tuesday. You can tune in to 104.1 FM during All Things Considered and Morning Edition, or stream the program via and the KCRW app.

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