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Volunteers in Belarus begin vaccine trial

KYIV – Human trials have begun with volunteers in Belarus for Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V. The vaccine received Russian governmental approval in August but continued to draw criticism from medical experts as it had only been tested on a few dozen people.

The first shot in the new trials was given to a Belarusian volunteer on Thursday in an outpatient clinic in Minsk, the country’s capital.

The study began earlier this month and will take place in eight different medical facilities, according to Belarusian officials, and 100 volunteers “will get the opportunity to be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the compound” developed in Russia. The government did not immediately make clear how many people will receive a placebo.

The vaccine received approved from the Russian government on Aug. 11, after early trials among 76 volunteers. Russian President Vladimir Putin personally broke the news on national television saying one of his daughters had already been vaccinated, experienced slight side effects, and developed antibodies.

The announcement prompted criticism from experts around the world, saying that much broader studies among tens of thousands of volunteers would be needed to guarantee a vaccine’s safety and effectiveness before widespread distribution.

Two weeks after Sputnik V received government approval, Russian health authorities announced advanced trials among 40,000 volunteers. Head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriyev said earlier this month that six or seven other countries may be involved in further trial rounds for the shot.

Russian officials mentioned that vaccination of risk groups, such as doctors and nurses, may be carried out “in parallel” — but it is unclear whether that will be done as part of the studies.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation since 1994, dismissed the virus as “psychosis” and recommended drinking vodka to stay healthy, fueling public frustration.

In a report published in the journal Lancet last month, developers of the Russian vaccine said it appeared to be safe and prompted an antibody response in all 40 people tested in the second phase of the study. However, the authors noted that participants were only followed for 42 days, the study sample was small and there was no placebo or control vaccine used.

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