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Fauci: 'I seriously doubt' Russia's coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciSunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge US COVID-19 cases reach past 13 million Fauci: Pandemic likely won't improve by Christmas, New Year's MORE, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Tuesday he has serious doubts about Russia’s announcement that it has a vaccine ready to be used for the novel coronavirus.

"Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things," Fauci said during a panel discussion with National Geographic.

The comments came just hours after Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinScarborough says he'll never return to Republican Party after GOP supported Trump Will Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? Russian vessel threatens to ram US warship in disputed waters in Sea of Japan MORE said the country had become the first in the world to gain regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Putin said that the vaccine went through clinical testing and that it had proven to offer immunity to the deadly disease, which has infected more than 20 million people worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

However, phase three trials for the drug have reportedly not been completed, triggering skepticism from international health experts about its usefulness. 

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said he had seen no evidence supporting Putin's position. 

"I hope that the Russians have actually, definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they've done that," he said, adding that Americans need to understand that the process for gaining vaccine approval requires safety and efficacy. 

More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world as part of efforts to offer immunity protection for the coronavirus. Moderna, in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, launched a phase three trial for a vaccine in July, making it the first U.S. candidate to reach that stage. 

Fauci has said he's "cautiously optimistic" that a COVID-19 vaccine will be ready by the end of the year. He told a House committee on July 31 that he was encouraged by everything he's seen in the early data but that “there's never a guarantee that you're going to get a safe and effective vaccine."

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The World Health Organization said Tuesday it was monitoring Russia's progress in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Progress in combating the virus "should not compromise safety," the health agency said

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb echoed Fauci's skepticism earlier Tuesday, noting in a tweet Russia has been behind disinformation campaigns related to the pandemic. 

"Today’s news that they 'approved' a vaccine on the equivalent of phase 1 data may be another effort to stoke doubts or goad U.S. into forcing early action on our vaccines," he said. 

Russia is reportedly planning to offer its COVID-19 vaccine to medical personnel as soon as this month. It will be made available to the general public in October, according to Reuters