Kazakhstan set to launch its own Covid-19 vaccine, developed at remote former Soviet-era biological & viral weapons laboratory

A second former Soviet Republic could soon be in line to produce its own jab against coronavirus, after Kazakhstan announced it was close to completing trials of a vaccine candidate developed in the large Central Asian country.

On Wednesday, the scientists behind the project announced that “mass production of the vaccine is planned to begin in April.” According to them, their product is currently undergoing stage-three clinical trials, but has “shown high safety and immunogenicity. When used correctly, it creates immunity in all vaccinated participants.” Research is expected to be completed fully by June.

The formula, known as QazCOVID-in, was pioneered by a team at the Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems (NISKhI), set outside a remote steppe town in the south of the vast country. Originally founded as a secret Soviet weapons laboratory dedicated to the weaponization of viruses, NISKhI built expertise “in highly pathogenic and exotic diseases of livestock and crops,” according to the NDI, a US-based chemical and biological weapons watchdog.

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In 1991, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Moscow cut funding to the institute and many of its scientists left for postings in Russia instead. Since then, Kazakh authorities have worked to rebuild it as an innovative, peaceful research center, while maintaining its focus on viral diseases.

Since detecting its first cases in March, more than 270,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the Central Asian nation, home to a population of 18.5 million. While the vast majority have recovered, over 3,100 deaths from the virus have been recorded.

Russia is currently the only former Soviet Republic to have registered a domestic formula to protect against Covid-19. The country made headlines last year when it became the first nation to approve a jab, Sputnik V, anywhere in the world. Since then, it has granted authorizations to two more jabs and has begun exporting supplies to countries across the world.

However, the country itself has had to contend with high levels of skepticism, with some surveys showing that as many as six out of ten Russians would be skeptical about receiving any coronavirus vaccine.

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