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Three Russian doctors face a criminal trial after being accused of endangering children's health in the course of trials of vaccines for the drug company GlaxoSmithKline. If convicted they could be sentenced to up to six years in prison.
Prosecutors in the southern Russian city of Volgograd allege that the doctors tested GlaxoSmithKline vaccines on young babies who were not fully healthy and that parents' consent was not sought. The three doctors and GlaxoSmithKline deny any wrongdoing and say that the trials were done lawfully and entirely in accordance with relevant ethical obligations.
In fact it seems that the doctors are the victims of a political storm created by the Russian media, in which the vaccine trials have been depicted as experiments on unsuspecting citizens by predatory foreign firms.
The trials were done in 2005 at the Independent Clinical Hospital in Volgograd on GlaxoSmithKline's behalf and included 112 babies aged 1-2 years.
They concerned the company's branded vaccine for chickenpox (Varilrix) and its combined vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (Priorix) and were part of a series of trials involving almost 6000 adults and children in 10 European countries including Russia.
The three doctors at the centre of the controversy have categorically denied any wrongdoing. They are Olga Alikova, a former assistant to the chief physician at the Volgograd hospital; Tatyana Slizova, head of the hospital's paediatric unit; and Svetlana Alexeyeva, a paediatrician.
Dr Alexeyeva has insisted that “all the rules were followed.” She has complained of psychological suffering after being bombarded with telephone calls from angry parents.
GlaxoSmithKline itself has also issued a strong denial that any laws were broken or that its vaccines are in any way unsafe.
In a statement on the website of its Russian division, the company says that the vaccines had been registered in Russia and that the trials were sanctioned by the authorities, including the relevant state committees on ethics and research.
The company has done its own internal audit, it added, and found no problems.
“The company . . . is extremely worried by these unfounded and untrue statements,” it said.
“These clinical trials took place in 10 countries around the world. In the other nine there were no such unfounded accusations.”
The three doctors are in the process of hiring lawyers as they prepare to stand trial.