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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Doctors Charged In Vaccine Scandal

Prosecutors in Volgograd on Monday charged three doctors at a local hospital with failing to safeguard the health of infants who were given an unregistered vaccine produced by a division of British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline as part of a clinical trial.

The three doctors -- Olga Alikova, former assistant to the chief physician at Independent Clinical Hospital; Tatyana Slizova, head of the hospital's pediatric unit; and pediatrician Svetlana Alexeyeva -- were charged following an investigation that began March 15, said Lidia Sergeyeva, a spokeswoman for the Volgograd regional prosecutor's office.

Prosecutors opened the investigation in response to a complaint from the parents of Vika Geraskina, who was 1 year old when she was purportedly given the vaccine in November 2005.

They maintain that Geraskina should not have been included in the list of 112 participants in the vaccine trial because she suffers from cerebral hypoxia, a lack of oxygen supply to the brain.

After receiving the vaccine, which is designed to protect against chicken pox, measles and rubella, Geraskina's health deteriorated, prosecutors said.

Investigators concluded that both the law and the pharmaceutical company's contract with the hospital were contravened, resulting in the inclusion of children with neurological disorders and chronic illnesses in the trial, prosecutors said in a statement released Monday.

Parents also believed that their children were receiving proven vaccines and were not informed about the trials, prosecutors said.

Alexeyeva denied knowingly breaking the law.

"We followed all the rules," she said Monday by telephone from the hospital, which belongs to the regional railway company.

"I am suffering psychologically from the pressure," she said. Alexeyeva complained of sleepless nights after heated exchanges with the parents of the children who took part in the trial.

Alexeyeva said she was in the process of hiring a lawyer.

The other doctors, Alikova and Slizova, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

All three could face up to six years in prison.

Michael Crow, the head of GlaxoSmithKline in Russia, dismissed the allegations as "untrue" at a news conference earlier this month. "All the parents agreed to the tests," he said.

Crow declined to comment on Monday.

The vaccines were produced by GlaxoSmithKline's Belgian trading arm, which paid Alikova more than 1.5 million rubles ($57,670) for hosting the tests at the hospital, the prosecutor's statement said. Slizova, the head of the pediatric unit, received some 700,000 rubles (just under $27,000).

After consultations with Crow, a spokesman who declined to give his name said GlaxoSmithKline would only comment, "when we have a complete picture."

A March 16 statement from GlaxoSmithKline said any link between the adverse symptoms and the vaccine were "extremely improbable."

Gennady Onishchenko, the country's chief epidemiologist, said last month that Geraskina was part of a control group, and that her symptoms could not be a result of the tests because she was not given the specific vaccine in question.

Prosecutors acknowledge that an independent panel comprising doctors, lawyers, priests and others had approved the trial.

GlaxoSmithKline contracted Independent Clinical Hospital to test its new vaccine in early 2005 -- part of a national battery of tests that involved 1,000 babies in 10 cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.

A statement posted on the company's Russian web site said the company and health authorities had audited the Russian facilities involved in the trial and had discovered no violations.

In February, a court ordered the Volgograd clinic to stop the trials.

No date has been set for a hearing, Sergeyeva said.