FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

Reasons behind Russia’s anti-COVID vaccine for animals



On 7 April, a round table was held at the Rossiya Segodnya Press Center. The event was dedicated to the launch of the Russian coronavirus vaccine for animals, developed by the Federal Center for Animal Health (FGBI ARRIAH) and registered by the Russian State Center for Animal Feed and Drug Standardization and Quality (FSBI "VGNKI").

The forum was moderated by Ms Yulia Melano, Adviser to the Head of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor), Editor-in-chief of “Animal Health and Life” information portal.

The forum was opened by Dr Budimir Plavsić, Head of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Regional Representation in Moscow, who described the situation with the COVID pandemic at the global level. "We understand that farm animals are less likely to carry the infection. It is the wild animals that are at risk," said Dr Plavsić. "That is why it is so important to protect the health of wild animals."

Underscoring the zoonotic origin of the new coronavirus infection, the expert said that the OIE, in particular, aims to "reduce the spread of diseases at the level of interaction between humans and the environment", as well as "improve the surveillance systems of Member States, the capacity for early detection, notification and control of wild animal diseases.» In addition, the OIE expert stressed the important role of cooperation between the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Russian Federation in connection with the development of veterinary vaccines. He noted that biosafety and sanitary standards are key preventive measures to contain the spread of diseases.

"FAO is actively cooperating with Russian veterinary and supervisory authorities, academic institutions, as well as international organizations within the framework of the "One World, One Health" concept," said Mr Oleg Kobiakov, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Liaison Office with the Russian Federation.

The coronavirus pandemic has vividly confirmed the fact that health is indivisible. FAO is closely monitoring the situation in the world not only because of the threat of coronaviruses transmission from animals to humans, stressed the FAOLOR Director, but also because of the risk of epizootics, that always «result in the loss of cattle, culling of infected animals, a reduction in food volumes and drop in the income of those who are directly employed in the agricultural sector." As a result, efforts to ensure food security, including those taken by FAO and its Member States, are undermined.

Cases of coronavirus infection in animals have already been reported in 27 countries. The first of them was detected in March 2020 in Hong Kong. This disease was detected in polecats, minks, and zoo animals such as tigers, lions and gorillas, said Dr Nikita Lebedev, Adviser to the Head of Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor). This indicates that the virus mutates, adapts, and demonstrates the ability to search for and find a "new host" (carrier).

"Last year, there was information that animals cannot get infected with COVID-19 from humans since they have their own coronaviruses." However, the speaker stressed, both Russian and foreign studies have confirmed that "animals are susceptible to the new coronavirus infection and suffer from COVID-19.”

"Russia has been conducting research since May 2020. Special test systems have been established in the Federal Center for Animal Health (FGBI ARRIAH) and the Russian State Center for Animal Feed and Drug Standardization and Quality (FSBI "VGNKI") to analyze samples taken from animals; until now, more than 1500 such tests have been conducted in Russia through random selection (samples from cats, dogs, lions, hedgehogs, farm animals, such as cattle, pigs, birds have been analyzed; monitoring research of fur farms have been conducted where minks, polecats, sables have been tested for infection)," Dr Lebedev said. "As a result, infection cases have been only confirmed in two regions of Russia (Moscow and Tyumen)."

For now, COVID-19 has not spread widely across Russia, but "we should remain vigilant in any case, otherwise we can let the causative agent slip by into sensitive animals’ populations, first of all, into wild nature. If the virus slips and takes its roots there, the disease, unfortunately, can become zoonotic, and we will have to deal with it on a permanent basis."

Researchers from Spain and the United States of America have already reported cases of minks infected by SARS-CoV-2 to the OIE. Consequently, "the virus has already slipped into wild nature. If it takes its roots there (and we are seeing cases of both infra- and interspecific transmission), risks will be very high." Today, when humans are developing a population immunity, the virus as a parasite will try to find new sensitive species to survive. Therefore, the situation must be held under control, and one of the most efficient ways to do so is to use the means of specific vaccination.

Responding to the moderator’s question on the risk of a pandemic among animals, Dr Lebedev said, "For now we have no prerequisites for a massive vaccination, but we must remain vigilant, and, thanks to the means of specific prevention, take control of the situation as soon as we see it deteriorating."

Mark Oaten, CEO, International Fur Federation, confirmed that the coronavirus pandemic had seriously affected fur industry in Europe, particularly, in Denmark. Upon the decision of the Danish government about 17 million minks were devitalized, as there was grave concern about the possible disease transmission from minks to people. Fortunately, the speaker noted, "we predict that the mink population will reach a number of 20 million animals until summer, and we are looking forward to the swift vaccination of this population – first and foremost to guarantee fur animals’ health and reduce the risk of a disease outbreak."

Informing about clinical trials of the vaccines developed in the United States of America and Finland, Mark Oaten underscored that his company intended to use the vaccine that would be registered successfully, no matter who developed it. He said that the Russian vaccine was undergoing the process of certification quickest, but it had to be approved in other countries, too, which could be quite difficult in the European Union.

Ilya Chvala, Deputy Director, Federal Center for Animal Health (FGBI ARRIAH) told the audience that “in early January the center developed a new method of detecting the virus’s genome with the help of polymerase chain reaction real-time.”

The method is widely used both in medical and veterinary laboratories, but the restrictions of movement in the context of the pandemic have entailed the need to provide some of the largest national veterinary laboratories with reliable diagnosis instruments. As a result, according to Dr Chvala, "a test system was developed in mid-April and set up in the veterinary laboratory, so from that time on we have had a reliable, efficient instrument to conduct laboratory research."

Tatiyana Galkina, Head of the Laboratory for Small House Animals Disease Prevention, Federal Center for Animal Health, formulated one of the forum’s key messages, “We are not safe from new viruses, so science must be proactive and be one step ahead.”

In his closing remarks FAOLOR Director Oleg Kobiakov saluted the vaccine development pointing out that it contributed to the global research into the nature of the coronavirus, its spread mechanisms, and “gave a new tool to animal health practitioners”.


Background information

The health of animals, people, plants and the environment is strongly interconnected. FAO collaborates with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in the FAO-OIE-WHO Tripartite to create and support One Health programmes.

FAO embraces One Health in protecting human, animal and plant health; supporting management and conservation of natural resources; ensuring food security; facilitating access to safe and nutritious food; tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR); advancing climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts; and promoting sustainable fisheries and agricultural production.

The application of a One Health approach is critical for achieving the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the related Sustainable Development Goals.


You can watch the archived recording of the round table discussion.