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Political interference in public health science during covid-19

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3878 (Published 06 October 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m3878

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Russia: Political interference in public health science

Dear Editor

Gonsalves and Yamey’s (1) have highlighted the names of several world leaders to bring home the issue of political interference in public health science during COVID-19, however, surprisingly the name of Vladimir Putin is conspicuous by its absence. The Kremlin has faced criticism since the start of the pandemic for downplaying the seriousness of pandemic, underreporting the number of cases and deaths, and delaying the response. Dr. Anastasia Vasilieva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors - an independent doctors’ union - who dismissed as “lies” the country’s low official numbers for SARS-CoV-2 infections was detained in April by authorities for trying to deliver masks, gloves and other supplies to a local hospital in an impoverished rural town (2).

On 11th August, Putin announced that the Russia is the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine - Sputnik V - for widespread use. This decision was immediately denounced by global scientific community as dangerously rushed. In an open letter (3), a group of researchers highlighted serious gaps in the study (4) that claimed success of Sputnik V and demanded access to the original data. The drug regulator of India is also not satisfied with the phase 2 clinical trial data of Sputnik V conducted in Russia, and has demanded a fresh phase 2 clinical trial in India before a Phase 3 trial is conducted (5).

These incidents suggest widespread interference of the Russian political leadership in science in manufacturing good news and suppressing the truth.

Reference
1. Gonsalves G, Yamey G. Political interference in public health science during covid-19. BMJ 2020;371:m3878.
2. The anti-science leadership of Trump, Bolsonaro, and Putin led to the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world [Internet]. Business Insider. [cited 2020 Oct 6]. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.in/politics/world/news/the-anti-science-lead....
3. Note of concern [Internet]. Cattivi Scienziati. 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 7]. Available from: https://cattiviscienziati.com/2020/09/07/note-of-concern/.
4. Logunov DY, Dolzhikova IV, Zubkova OV, Tukhvatullin AI, Shcheblyakov DV, Dzharullaeva AS, et al. Safety and immunogenicity of an rAd26 and rAd5 vector-based heterologous prime-boost COVID-19 vaccine in two formulations: two open, non-randomised phase 1/2 studies from Russia. The Lancet 2020;396:887-97.
5. Dr Reddy’s Laboratories to submit a revised protocol for conducting clinical trials of Russian COVID-19 vaccine - The Economic Times [Internet]. [cited 2020 Oct 7]. Available from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/pharmac....

Competing interests: No competing interests

06 October 2020
Mahesh Devnani
Associate Professor
Dept. of Hospital Administration, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research
Chandigarh, India