First received with skepticism, the Russian vaccine against covid-19 Sputnik V has since convinced experts of its effectiveness, according to the specialized journal The Lancet. A scientific and political success for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.Putin at the forefront. From the first weeks of the pandemic, the Russian president has ordered the scientific, political, and military apparatus to launch into battle so that Russia is the first to develop a vaccine. To do this, the Russian authorities are ready to take shortcuts.
In the spring of 2020, the director of the Gamaleya research institute, Alexander Guintsburg boasts of having developed the product. He injected himself with an experimental version of what would become Sputnik V. On August 11, Putin announces the homologation of the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, a proclamation received with skepticism abroad, since it has only been tested on a few dozen military personnel.
Even before Phase 3 trials with tens of thousands of volunteers, the product was already available to the Russian elite, as did one of Putin’s daughters. The vaccination of the population began in December 2020, at the same time that Europe and the United States were distributing the first vaccines developed by their pharmaceutical firms.
For the Kremlin, the vaccine demonstrates the excellence of a Russia despised and sanctioned by the West. Putin calls Sputnik V the “best vaccine in the world.” The choice of the name is highly symbolic. It is a tribute to the world’s first satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, and recalls a scientific feat and a tough defeat for the archenemy the United States.
It is also about the return of Russian research to the world’s scientific elite. This sector had been heavily affected by crises and corruption since the fall of the USSR. Russia quickly demonstrated its willingness to distribute the vaccine around the world, to prove that it knew how to do more than export weapons, minerals, and hydrocarbons. Sputnik V was homologated in more than fifteen countries: from ex-Soviet neighbors like Belarus or Armenia to allies like Venezuela and Iran, but also in South Korea, Argentina, Algeria, Tunisia, and Pakistan.
The Russian vaccine was long treated with distrust because of the Russian rush and the absence of published scientific data. The Russian sovereign wealth fund, which participated in the development of Sputnik V, announced on January 20 that it had started the approval procedure before the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Viktor Orban’s Hungary did it separately, denouncing the European slowness. German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed German aid for this European procedure and a possible “joint production”.
Russian society raises the challenge against President Putin. Russia claims to have received orders for more than 1 billion doses but is unable to meet such demand. No official source has been clear about how many doses have been manufactured or distributed so far.Authorities have only spoken of 1.5 million injections worldwide as of mid-January. Shipments abroad are often symbolic (20,000 doses to Bolivia, for example). In some cases, it has not been disclosed.
Argentina reported the first delays, having ordered 19.4 million doses through the end of February. More than exporting, Moscow wants to develop cooperative projects to produce the vaccine in local factories. At the moment, Kazakhstan, India, South Korea, and Brazil produce Sputnik V. But not all of them use it yet.Other Russian vaccines, At least three more anti-covid vaccines are expected in Russia in the coming months. Sputnik V, a viral vector vaccine in two injections, will have a “light” version, with a single dose. In February the launch of the mass production of the EpiVacCorona vaccine, which was developed by the state laboratory Vektor, is scheduled. According to the Russian government, a third vaccine has to be approved the CoviVac of the Shumakov institute, also state-run. Lastly, the AstraZeneca laboratory and the inventors of Sputnik V have said that they are working to combine their respective vaccines.