Latvian-based news site and aggregator, Meduza, is raising ethical concerns about COVID-19 vaccine research in Russia. The site says that issues include the fact that the state-owned Sberbank encouraged its workers to participate in vaccine trials. Also, at the Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, study “researchers had become test subjects of a coronavirus vaccine that had yet to undergo any other human trials.” On June 2, the Russian military stated that a vaccine is being tried with “military personnel volunteers.” The article asserts that these facts raise both ethical and legal issues, and that due to their dependence on the state, these trial subjects are “administratively vulnerable.”
Allegations Russia Skirting Ethics Rules in COVID-19 Research
Further details include the prophylactic experimental use of HCQ conducted on medical workers, and said workers complained about “pressure” to participate. Next, at least one clinical trial is being classified as a “prevention program,” and it does not have to register as a trial or necessarily comply with trial protocols. By GOST’s standards, “registering planned research trials involving human subjects in a public database is also a requirement of the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration on the ethical principles of human experimentation.”
Another issue is the prospect that study permits are being speeded up at an alarming pace. It can take only a week to gain approval at times, compared to the normal three months. In April, Decree 441 was issued which allows for COVID-19-specific studies using already approved drugs. This, “minimally interventional research,” only required notice to the Health Ministry and to “provide a report…after the fact.”
Meduza a Challenge to Russian Information Control
By its self-description, Meduza, “brings you the most important news and feature stories from hundreds of sources in Russia and across the former Soviet Union. Our team includes some of Russia’s top professionals in news and reporting. We value our independence and strive to be a reliable, trusted outlet for verified, unbiased information about Russia and the former Soviet Union, as well as a source for sharp insights about one of the world’s most enigmatic regions.” After being fired by Russian media Lenta.ru, Meduza founder and CEO Galina Timchenko found a safer home in Latvia where they have avoided Russian censorship. There has been an English version since 2015.
According Media Bias Fact Check, Meduza has a strong liberal bias in its editorial stance, yet maintains strong factual accuracy in reporting. Per the Independent, the site was up to 2.7 million visitors a month within six months of operation. This article also notes that some, “have attacked the new Meduza operation over a perceived lack of transparency over funding. It is public knowledge, for example, there were negotiations with oligarch Mikhail Khodorokovsky but very little is known about the organisation’s current benefactors.”
Call to Action: TrialSite News was established to help make clinical research more accessible and transparent worldwide. With an emphasis on the research site, the ethnical principles established originally with the Declaration of Helsinki and reinforced by regulatory bodies and standards organizations are certainly of paramount importance to the ethical integrity underlying research.