Some United Nations staff are likely brushing up on their Russian—specifically how to say “Thanks, but no thanks” in the nicest 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 trials for efficacy and has not been thoroughly vetted for safety.
Still, Putin suggested that his offer was prompted by the desire to give the people what they want: “Some colleagues from the UN have asked about this, and we will not remain indifferent to them,” he said during a speech Tuesday at this year’s (virtual) General Assembly.
Putin made headlines last month after announcing that Russia has granted regulatory approval for the (limited) 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.
But public health experts were quickly skeptical of the move, seeing it as merely a political stunt to give the appearance that Russia was “winning” 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 total—and the data from those small trials had not yet been released.
Russian researchers have since published that data in the journal The Lancet. The results indicate that Sputnik V spurred potentially protective immune responses and did not cause any severe side effects. However, outside researchers were quick to note oddities in the data, including that different samples generated suspiciously identical or near-identical results.
Sputnik V has now moved into larger trials with tens of thousands of people. These will test whether the vaccine is safe in a larger number of people and actually protects against infection from SARS-CoV-2. But any clear results are months away.
The lack of data does not seem to trouble Putin, who was happy to distribute the vaccine to UN staff. “Any one of us could face this dangerous virus. The virus has not spared the staff of the United Nations, its headquarters, and regional entities,” Putin said in a prerecorded speech from Moscow, according to the AP. “Russia is ready to offer UN workers the necessary, qualified help, and in particular we propose to supply our vaccine for free to employees of the organization and its subsidiaries who volunteer for vaccination.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told the AP that “We thank President Putin for his generous offer, which will be studied by our medical services.”
Dr. Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the World Health Organization, which is an agency within the UN, declined to comment.