MOSCOW -- Russia's Health Ministry has denied a report by Bloomberg that political and business elites have been given early access to an experimental vaccine against COVID-19.
On July 19, Bloomberg cited an unnamed individual close to the work on developing the vaccine at the Moscow-based Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology as saying that several hundred people had received the experimental vaccine since April. The news agency added that its reporters had also talked to some participants in the experiment who received the vaccine free of charge.
Health Ministry aide Aleksei Kuznetsov rejected the report on July 20, saying that that the test trials of the vaccine had yet to be finished.
"After the trial tests, in accordance with the law, the process of the registration of the new vaccine will start. At this point, the vaccine has not been allowed to circulate to be available for citizens. Its use beyond clinical research is impossible," Kuznetsov said.
Aleksandr Ginzburg, the director of the center, added on July 20 that he was not aware of any early access being given to anyone for the experimental vaccine.
Bloomberg's report said that top managers of the Rusal aluminum giant and the chemical holding firm Phosagro were vaccinated as well with the experimental vaccine. The companies declined to comment.
The head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriyev told RBK news agency in an interview published on July 19 that he and members of his family also had taken the vaccine.
Dmitriyev said earlier last week that it was his understanding that the third phase of the vaccine's test trials will start on August 3 and include thousands of people in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, adding that the vaccine will start being distributed across Russia as early as September.
Last week, the United States, Canada, and Britain accused Russian government-backed hackers of trying to steal secrets of their COVID-19 vaccine efforts. Russian officials deny the allegations.
Russia's health authorities on July 20 reported that the number of coronavirus cases in the country had reached 777,486, including 12,427 deaths, the world's fourth-highest number of positive tests.