Health

Kazakhstan prepares rollout for COVID-19 vaccine as trials continue

By Aydar Ashimov

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Kazakh scientists experiment with a vaccine against COVID-19 on a rabbit in Almaty in this undated photo. [RIBSP]

NUR-SULTAN -- A second Kazakh COVID-19 vaccine candidate has received World Health Organisation (WHO) approval for preclinical testing as construction continues on a facility set to produce millions of doses of any eventual drug.

The WHO added the second vaccine developed by Kazakh scientists to its list of candidate vaccines, Kaissar Tabynov, director of the International Centre for Vaccinology at the Kazakh National Agrarian University in Almaty, said on his Facebook page on September 15.

On September 13, the Science Committee of the Ministry of Education and Science published study results that showed that patients developed increasing immunity six weeks after the administration of the vaccine.

The same Science Committee's Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems (RIBSP) is recruiting additional volunteers aged 18 to 50 who are in excellent health to take part in the vaccine study.

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RIBSP employees work on a trial vaccine against COVID-19 in Zhambyl Province in this undated photo. [RIBSP]

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Government officials and RIBSP scientists visit the construction site of the new pharmaceutical plant in Zhambyl Province on August 3. [RIBSP]

The study will take place at the National Scientific Centre for Phthisiopulmonology in Almaty.

'A great accomplishment'

The WHO already has included the first Kazakh vaccine, developed by RIBSP scientists, on the list of vaccines approved for clinical trials, the RIBSP said in a statement August 29.

"Preclinical research on an inactivated Kazakh vaccine against COVID-19 developed by the RIBSP has been completed. The vaccine was carefully tested for safety and toxic effect on animals and can be used on volunteers in further clinical trials," the RIBSP said earlier, on August 19.

Researchers created the vaccine by using a virus strain extracted from Kazakhs who had fallen ill from the disease.

In July, seven vaccine developers voluntarily tested its effect on themselves and experienced no adverse side effects.

Starting in October, Kazakhstan has plans to conduct clinical trials on 200 volunteers through December. The trials with comply with WHO requirements, according to the RIBSP.

Should a Kazakh vaccine eventually receive approval for use, a pharmaceutical plant being built in Zhambyl Province will produce the treatment. Work on the facility began in June.

On August 3, the RIBSP held a meeting to discuss construction plans, the timeline for completion and concerns over the project.

The plant is crucial to a successful domestic vaccination programme, Berdibek Saparbayev, the akim (governor) of Zhambyl Province, emphasised during the meeting.

"The timely handover of the pharmaceutical plant is an issue of life and death because the vaccine produced in the plant may save the lives of thousands of Kazakh citizens," Saparbayev said. "The development of a vaccine against the coronavirus infection will be an asset and a matter of pride for the people."

Although officials have announced no deadline for completion of the plant, the RIBSP is planning to produce 2 million doses of vaccine by the end of the year, even before the plant goes into operation.

The development of a domestic vaccine "is a great accomplishment", said Nagima Utekova, a physician from Nur-Sultan.

Having a high-quality Kazakh vaccine would protect the country against the dubious Russian vaccine that the Kremlin has been trumpeting.

Russian vaccine concerns

Health scientists and medical analysts around the world have sounded the alarm about Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims that Russia has produced the first coronavirus vaccine.

The country's unproven, untested "Sputnik V" drug may be in fact more dangerous than COVID-19, many have suggested.

The Russian coronavirus vaccine is "contraindicated for people from the COVID-19 infection risk group", Kazakh Vice Minister of Healthcare Marat Shoranov said in an online briefing on September 3.

The vaccine could present a risk for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, sufferers of chronic illnesses, and individuals younger than 18 and older than 60, he said.

Kazakhstan meanwhile is keeping a close eye on the development of other vaccines for potential acquisition.

Kazakhstan was hit hard by the pandemic in June and July, when case numbers surged. Authorities lifted a state of emergency May 11 and relaxed quarantine measures.

Since then, the number of cases has tapered off.

The country recorded 7,108 coronavirus infections and 222 deaths in the first week of August, according to the Healthcare Ministry. They declined to 1,685 confirmed cases and 108 deaths in the August 17-23 period.

The reduction in morbidity and mortality was reported as well in pneumonia cases associated with the coronavirus. In the first week of August, 7,940 patients fell ill with pneumonia with 122 deaths, while during the August 17-23 period 4,138 had the condition and 40 deaths were recorded.

As of Tuesday (September 22), Kazakhstan has 107,374 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,671 deaths, according to the Healthcare Ministry's website.

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Ha! Why did [they] panic, urging Russian doctors to help? And [the medics] have helped. And now [those who asked for help] are readily badmouthing them. Of course. It's a competition. The income from the vaccine won't cause anyone any harm. But it is just that tarnishing your competitor to look good yourself is mean.

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