It was discussed for a long time, now the time has come: The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is starting a test procedure for the corona vaccine Sputnik V. The decision to examine the approval of the much-discussed Russian vaccine is based on the results of laboratory tests and clinical studies in adults, the EMA said. Accordingly, Sputnik V stimulates the formation of antibodies against the virus and could help protect against Covid-19.
Even if it is not yet foreseeable whether and when the green light for the vaccine could be given in the EU, the test procedure should in any case run quickly: The EMA experts will evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine according to the “rolling review process”. Test results are already checked, even if not all results are available and no application for approval has been submitted.
Because time is of the essence: The pandemic has Europe firmly under control, the third wave is rolling, especially the not-so-well-developed health systems of some countries in Central and Eastern Europe are at the limit due to the high number of infections and full of hospitals. No wonder that in some countries the calls for more vaccines are getting louder and louder after taking a path such as that shown by Serbia. There the government bought vaccines both in the West and in China or its historically close ally Russia. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban also used the Russian vaccine in bilateral agreements with media coverage – much to the annoyance of the EU grandees in Brussels. Czech President Milos Zeman is now asking China and Russia to deliver vaccines. And in Slovakia – as the first EU country after Hungary – a first delivery of the Russian vaccine has arrived.
Image success for Putin
For Russia, Sputnik V is a real export hit: 38 countries had already registered the vaccine by the end of February – that makes Sputnik one of the most popular vaccines in the world. Poor countries in particular are interested in the vaccine: after all, it is very cheap at just under two dollars for two doses and can also be stored in the refrigerator. As with other vaccines, production is the big problem with Sputnik. So far, the delivery quantities have not come close to that of western manufacturers.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Sputnik V is not only an image success for Russian President Vladimir Putin because of its resounding name. A success that the head of state, who is currently under a lot of pressure because of the arrest of his critic Alexej Navalny, also needs at national and international level. The fact that Navalny had blasphemed at the presentation of the vaccine that summer that the Kremlin’s announcements could only provoke laughter increases satisfaction there.
But in August, too, in the West, people turned up their noses at the all too rapid approval after clinical tests with fewer than 100 people – and probably also because of centuries of skepticism towards “backward” Russia. The Gamaleya Institute, which developed the vaccine, is also respected in the West. Just as the achievements of many Russian researchers in the natural sciences are impressive. The natural sciences were heavily promoted, especially in the Soviet era, for ideological reasons.
Low vaccination rate
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that Russia’s vaccination quota is surprisingly low at 2.7 percent – Austria is 7.9 percent, the EU average is 8 percent. The reason for this is not only that Russia, where there are currently hardly any Covid restrictions, views its vaccine primarily as an export hit.
But also the reluctance of the Russian population when it comes to vaccination. Although all adults in many regions could now be vaccinated, there is still little trust in one’s own vaccine. This is also due to the low level of confidence in the state and its structures. Compared to Western Europe, for a variety of historical reasons – and recent crisis experiences – it is only very weak.