Home Commercial Awareness Russia’s vaccine is now favourite in the fight against Covid-19

Russia’s vaccine is now favourite in the fight against Covid-19

by Elena Alonso

President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in August that Russia had authorised the use of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine, even before it had completed safety testing, provoked scepticism around the world. 

Now he can reap diplomatic dividends while Russia enjoys arguably its greatest scientific breakthrough since the Soviet era.

Countries are queuing up for supplies of Sputnik V after revised results published in The Lancet medical journal this week showed that the Russian vaccine protects against the deadly virus as well as US and European injections, and far more effectively than its Chinese rivals.

Going for the EU market

At least 19 countries have approved the use of the inoculation, including EU member state Hungary, while key markets such as Brazil and India are close to licensing it. Now Russia is setting its sights on the prized EU market as the bloc struggles with its vaccination programme amid supply shortages.  

In the global battle to defeat a pandemic that claimed 2.3 million lives in just over a year, the race for vaccines has taken on geopolitical significance as governments seek to extricate themselves from the enormous social and economic damage caused by the fiscal closures imposed to limit the spread of the virus. 

That gives Russia an advantage as one of the few countries where scientists have produced an effective defence.

91.6 per cent effectiveness

Its decision to name Sputnik V after the world’s first satellite whose 1957 launch gave the Soviet Union a stunning triumph against the United States to begin the space race only underlined the scale of the importance Moscow attached to the achievement. 

Results from late-stage trials of 20,000 participants reviewed in The Lancet showed the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91.6 per cent.

“This is a turning point for us, Kirill Dmitriev, executive director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed the development of Sputnik V and oversees its international deployment, said in an interview.

Political gains?

While it is too early to assess Putin’s political gains, Russia is already making much of the vaccine’s powerful impact on its image after years of international condemnation for election meddling and targeting of political opponents at home and abroad. State television reports extensively on deliveries to other nations.

Sputnik’s success will not change hostility towards Putin among Western governments, although it could strengthen Russia’s geopolitical influence in regions such as Latin America, according to Oksana Antonenko, director of the Control Risks consultancy.

“With this vaccine, it has shown that it is capable of producing something new that is in demand around the world,” she said.

Manufacturing in other countries

Production constraints are the biggest challenge facing all manufacturers, as global demand far outstrips supply. Russia, which promised free injections for its 146 million people, began producing the vaccine last year and the vaccine is now being manufactured in countries including India, South Korea, and Brazil.

This week, a close ally emerged in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who signed a deal to produce Sputnik V in Turkey, even as the nation has agreements to buy 50 million doses of China Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac vaccine and 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech shot.

Despite Russia’s success, domestic demand remains tepid so far, driven by public suspicion of the authorities. Putin, 68, stoked scepticism in December when he said he was looking forward to receiving the vaccine when it was approved for people his age.

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