Two leading voices on health issues in the U.S. are expressing skepticism about Russian President Valdimir Putin's claim that his country was the first to develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine. Putin's claim on Tuesday sparked immediate doubts about the science and safety behind the purported achievement.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday he hopes Moscow has "actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they've done that."
Fauci added that the U.S. is working on "half a dozen or more vaccines. So if we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn't work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that's not the way it works."
Fauci made the remarks during a keynote interview for Stopping Pandemics, an exclusive event due to air August 13 via National Geographic.
Separately, U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar said during a visit to Taiwan Wednesday that the push to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is "not a race to be first."
Azar said the U.S. is combining the powers of its government, economy and biopharmaceutical industry to "deliver as quickly as we can for the benefit of the United States' citizens, but also for the people of the world, safe and effective vaccines."
He said the U.S. has secured an advanced manufacturing contract for a vaccine being developed by the company Moderna and has supply agreements with five other firms who have vaccines in the works.
He pointed out that four of the six companies under contract have reported testing results showing they produce more antibodies for the virus than people who have survived COVID-19, without severe side effects.
Azar said two companies' vaccine candidates have entered the third phase of trials while the Russian vaccine is just now embarking on that stage with no information having been disclosed.
He said the U.S. process should enable the production of a "gold-standard, safe and effective vaccine" available in the tens of millions of doses by the end of the year.
But Russian Health Minister Mikhail said Wednesday that accusations that Russia's vaccine is unsafe are baseless and stem from competition, Russia's Interfax news agency reported, according to the Reuters news service.
And a Chinese official lashed out at Azar Wednesday for visiting Taiwan amid an ongoing pandemic back home, accusing him of putting politics ahead of the lives of the American people.
The comments came a day after Azar accused China of failing to warn the rest of the world about the coronavirus.