Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting focused on supporting the aviation industry and air transport at his residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, on May 13, 2020.
Alexey Nikolsky | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON – Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to receive an injection against the coronavirus on Tuesday, while the intrigue involves the country’s vaccination strategy.
The Kremlin said it would not reveal the name of the vaccine that Putin will receive, only that it would be one of three Russian-made vaccines.
“We are not deliberately saying which shot the president will take, noting that all three Russian vaccines are absolutely reliable and effective,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
There are three Russian vaccines – Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac – with the last two only recently receiving emergency approval.
The Russian president is likely to receive the vaccine on Tuesday night, Peskov added. It is unclear whether he will be filmed receiving the shot, as Peskov noted that Putin did not like the idea of being vaccinated on camera.
Slow vaccine release
Vaccination comes at a time when the focus is on the country’s vaccination strategy. On Monday, Putin praised the multi-million dollar international sales of the Russian Sputnik V Covid vaccine, but the country’s own launch seems slow and contrasts sharply with the high number of vaccines destined for the international market..
There have been reports that Russia’s own production capacity is low and Putin appeared to agree with that on Monday. He said that Russia needs to increase production of vaccines for domestic use and that meeting domestic needs is a priority, according to Reuters.
He recalled that 4.3 million people in the country have already received two doses of the vaccine. This is substantially greater than, for example, the United Kingdom, which has given some 2.3 million people the two doses so far, but Russia was the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine (Sputnik V ) in August 2020 – the United Kingdom approved a first shot in early December.
Russia has a number of logistical challenges to overcome when launching a vaccine. It is the largest country in the world and has a population of around 144 million people spread over a territory that covers Europe and North Asia.
In early March, Putin noted that all but nine Russian regions began to roll out the vaccine, with delays related to “local logistics, distribution (e) problems,” reported the Moscow Times.
Global data on vaccination programs show that Russia lags behind many other countries in its domestic implementation, with the number of single doses administered in Russia hovering just above the number administered in Bangladesh, according to Our World in Data.
Vaccination data becomes more evident given that Russia has been severely hit by the pandemic: it recorded the fourth largest number of cases in the world (more than 4.4 million) and more than 94,000 people died from Covid in the country, according to to Johns Hopkins University.
Another major problem that hinders the launch of Russia is the hesitation of the vaccine among its citizens. Daragh McDowell, Europe’s chief and Russia’s top analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC that the country’s lowest vaccination numbers are “probably much more the result of a lack of willingness on the part of popular skepticism about the vaccine than of a lack of offer.”
He noted that the latest data from the Levada center, an independent researcher in Russia, suggest that only 30% of Russians “are willing to be vaccinated, a number that has actually decreased since last year”.
“This is mainly due to concerns about side effects and that the vaccine has not been sufficiently tested – in other words, although the Kremlin has an advertising boost when launching the vaccine first, it was done at the expense of doubts about its safety “McDowell noted.
A woman receives the second component of the Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik V) COVID-19 vaccine.
Valentin Sprinchak | TASS | Getty Images
Sputnik V was initially authorized in Russia only for people aged 18 to 60, meaning that Putin, who is 68, was too old to receive it. Additional trials in the elderly found that the vaccine was safe in people aged 60 and over, however, and that this age group can now receive the injection.
“The fact that Putin has waited so long to be vaccinated has not gone unnoticed and contributed to these doubts,” added McDowell.
“The president’s vaccination will convince some Russians of the vaccine’s efficacy and safety (but) the high levels of social distrust and conspiracy thinking will lessen its impact.”
He pointed out that the same research data that showed that 30% of Russians were willing to be vaccinated also revealed that almost two-thirds believed that Covid was artificially developed as a biological weapon.
International sales offers
Another aspect of Russia’s vaccine program that is drawing attention is the high number of international sales of its vaccine. On Monday, Putin confirmed that Russia has signed international sales agreements for Sputnik V doses to 700 million people.
RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund that supported the development and deployment of Sputnik V, said on Tuesday that Sputnik V was approved in 56 countries, with Vietnam being the last to make the list. Several Eastern European countries, such as Hungary and Slovakia, have also ordered doses of Sputnik V.
Meanwhile, the European drug regulator started an ongoing review of Sputnik V earlier this month.
McDowell, of Verisk Maplecroft, pointed out that although exports of 700 million doses have been “an extremely ambitious number”, it probably includes products produced abroad, in India and South Korea, for example, under license.
The Russian Sputnik V vaccine was approved by the Russian health regulator in August last year, before clinical trials were completed, raising skepticism among experts that it might not meet strict safety and efficacy standards. Some experts argued that the Kremlin was eager to claim victory in the race to develop a vaccine for Covid, an accusation that has been raised in other countries. Russia has repeatedly said that its vaccine is the target of anti-Russian sentiment.
Russia appeared to be justified in early February, when a provisional analysis of phase 3 clinical trials of the injection, involving 20,000 participants, was published in the medical journal The Lancet. He found that the vaccine was 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 infection.
In an attached article in the Lancet, Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, England, noted that “the development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for the unseemly haste. But the result reported here is clear and scientific – the principle of vaccination is demonstrated. , which means that another vaccine may now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19. “