Enlarge /. Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by conference call at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly in Moscow on September 22, 2020.
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Some United Nations staff will likely brush up on their Russian – especially how to say "thank you, but no thanks" in the most beautiful way possible.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered UN staff free doses of the country's COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not completed clinical studies of effectiveness and has not been thoroughly reviewed for safety.
Still, Putin suggested that his offer was due to a desire to give people what they want: "Some colleagues at the United Nations have asked for it and we will not remain indifferent to them," he said during a speech on Tuesday this year (virtual) general assembly.
Putin made headlines last month after announcing that Russia had given regulatory approval to the (restricted) use of Sputnik V, the first country in the world to do so. He even boasted that one of his daughters had received her first dose of the vaccine.
However, public health experts were quickly skeptical of the move and viewed it merely as a political ploy to create the impression that Russia "won" the race to develop a vaccine against the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. At the time, the vaccine had only been tested in two small clinical trials involving just 76 people in total – and the data from those small trials had not yet been published.
Russian researchers have now published this data in the journal The Lancet. The results show that Sputnik V elicited potentially protective immune responses and did not cause serious side effects. However, outside researchers were quick to discover oddities in the data, including the fact that different samples produced suspiciously identical or nearly identical results.
Sputnik V has now carried out major experiments on tens of thousands of people. These test whether the vaccine is safe in a larger number of people and whether it actually protects against infection by SARS-CoV-2. But all clear results are months away.
The lack of data doesn't seem to worry Putin, who was happy to distribute the vaccine to UN staff. “Any of us could be exposed to this dangerous virus. The virus has not spared the staff of the United Nations, its headquarters and regional units, "Putin said in a recorded speech from Moscow, according to the AP. "Russia stands ready to provide UN workers with the necessary qualified assistance, and in particular we propose that our vaccine be delivered free of charge to employees of the organization and its subsidiaries who volunteer to be vaccinated."
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told the AP: "We thank President Putin for his generous offer, which is being examined by our medical services."
Dr. Margaret Harris, spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, an agency within the United Nations, declined to comment.