News & Politics

'Incomplete Data' and 'Unlikely Patterns' in Russian Coronavirus Vaccine Study

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

The medical journal The Lancet published the first data from Russia’s clinical trials of their Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and 27 scientists are questioning the results.

In an open letter published along with the study, the scientists questioned the “incomplete data” and “unlikely” patterns that showed up in the Russian data.

How “unlikely”?

CNBC:

They said the results showed that groups of participants had reported identical antibody levels at different points in the study. There are 27 signatories of the letter so far — predominantly scientists based in Europe but also including several in the U.S. and Asia.

“There are several data patterns which appear repeatedly for the reported experiments,” the open letter said. “On the ground of simple probabilistic evaluations the fact of observing so many data points preserved among different experiments is highly unlikely.”

The KGB could have faked it much more realistically.

Explaining his and his fellow signatories’ concerns, Bucci told CNBC on Thursday, that “as a group of scientists, we think that the data published are far from complete.”

“At this point, I need an explanation and we need clarification, the list of signatories need and ask for clarification … The point here (is that there’s) missing data, and strange data patterns. We cannot reach a conclusion on this vaccine without having full access to the data.“

All very collegial and friendly. No one is going to come out and call the Russian scientists liars — at least, to their faces. But that’s what the dissenters are saying.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that the reason there’s incomplete data is because of the haste with which the Russian scientists were trying to get the vaccine accepted and give this gift to the world. Of course it’s going to be a little sloppy, right?

On saying it was unusual to not be presented with the full data from clinical trials, Bucci made the comparison with the publication of early-stage clinical trial results of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine. In this case, he said, the authors of the study provided 128 pages of supplementary material for peers to review. “If you compare the two (studies) … you can see that there’s something missing in the Russian study.”

“Something missing” is the truth. Russian President Vladimir Putin swears the vaccine is safe, and we have no reason not to believe him. Russians are not dropping dead in the middle of the street from getting a bad vaccine.

But clearly, the Russian scientists are fudging the statistics — “cooking the books.” And that’s not helping anyone.

Still, the dissenting scientists are willing to give the Russians the benefit of the doubt. Enrico Bucci of Temple University is willing to give some of the sloppiness a pass. “All over the world, there is an undue pressure on scientists, and on clinicians, to hand over what they’re doing before they’re ready.”

This is true. But how do you explain this?

Giving another example of unexplained results, Bucci said part of the study appeared to show different immune cells producing identical responses in a group of individuals. “There are two different kinds of immune cells, CD4 and CD8, and nine out of nine are exactly or very similar values for CD4 and CD8 cells. These are completely unrelated cells, how can it be that you have nine people that have exactly the same number of CD4 and CD8?”

The dissenting scientists are playing politics with the results. They don’t dare out and out accuse the Russians of falsifying the data. If they did that, Putin’s feelings would be hurt and he would refuse to share any more results from the clinical trials. He would accuse the West of plotting against him and prevent any more cooperation with the rest of the world.

So they are keeping their mouths shut about the Russians lying in hopes that the real results would be forthcoming. Or, at least, they would get enough data from Russia to draw their own conclusions.

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