Scores of top Russian government officials and executives got shots of Russia’s experimental coronavirus vaccine as early as in April before human trials started, the Bloomberg news agency reported on Monday.
Reports came a few days after the UK government said it had evidence that Russian government-connected cyber hackers had been trying to steal research from two British labs which have been developing Covid-19 vaccines.
Bloomberg quotes several unnamed sources as saying that billionaire tycoons as well as executives at aluminum giant Rusal, owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska, got access to an experimental vaccine developed by the Gamalei Institute in Moscow.
Bloomberg said that dozens of those people have confirmed that they got the shots but none of them would allow their names to be published.
The programme involved hundreds of people but it is not clear how participants were selected. The Bell, a well-respected media outlet, said on Monday that it was aware of at least one case when a person was offered the experimental vaccine. The unnamed person was administered two shots, and ran up fever after the first one.
One member of Russia’s business elite who previously said publicly he and his family received the vaccine is Kirill Dmitriev, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin who leads Russia’s sovereign wealth fund that has bankrolled the vaccine development at the Gamalei Institute.
The institute’s director, Alexander Gintsburg, said in May that some members of his staff have self-administered the vaccine, which triggered a backlash in the scientific community.
The Gamalei Institute finished the first phrase of human trials last week just as the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre revealed that it had evidence that a Russian hacking group had attempted to steal vaccine research from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London.
Mr Dmitriev’s fund hopes to produce about 30 million doses of Russia’s vaccine by the end of the year, which might make it the world’s first approved vaccine
Lucrative manufacturing deals has also been signed with five other countries to produce 170 million doses.
Mr Gintsburg at the Gamalei Institute on Monday claimed no knowledge of tycoons getting the shots while Vadim Tarasov of the Sechenov State Medical University which also tests the vaccine dismissed the reports as “rumours.”