Sputnik V: How good is the Russian vaccine?


After discussions about Astrazeneca, there is again a vaccine with Sputnik V that could divide. It was approved in Russia prior to major studies. Questions and answers about the vaccine that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is currently reviewing.

What are the political concerns?

As early as mid-August 2020, Russia released Sputnik V, the world’s first corona vaccine for widespread use in the population. “Vaccination is always politics, it’s never just about medical issues,” says historian Malte Thießen, who has been concerned with the history of immunization since the first smallpox vaccination. He speaks of reservations in the western part of the EU. The poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexej Navalny may also be a reason for some citizens not to want a product from Russia to be injected. Choosing the name Sputnik for a vaccine is already “first class propaganda”, according to Thießen. Sputnik 1 was the name of the world’s first satellite launched, with which the Soviet Union shocked the western world in 1957.

What doubts do scientists have?

Russia received international criticism for first place in the vaccine release. Scientists mainly complained about the lack of conclusive data. The reason is that the approval took place before the results of so-called phase III studies were available. This contradicts the usual procedure. Because in the test with several thousand test subjects, rare side effects could be detected, according to the Paul Ehrlich Institute.

The researchers published the first details on Sputnik V in early September 2020 in the journal “The Lancet”. Accordingly, the vaccine stimulates an immune response. Antibodies against the virus were detected in a total of 76 participants in test phase I / II. This was followed by criticism of Russia’s approach, but also sigh of relief: The result now available is unambiguous. The scientific principle of vaccination had been demonstrated, said researcher Polly Roy from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine the journal “The Lancet”.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine developed by the Gamaleja State Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow is a so-called vector vaccine and thus similar to the Astrazeneca vaccine. Both use weakened, harmless viruses to channel the information into the body. The aim is to get the immune system to trigger defense reactions against Sars-CoV-2. When it comes into contact with the coronavirus, the body is prepared and can better contain the infection.

The Russian vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart. The side effects include pain at the injection site, headache and body aches, fatigue and sometimes flu-like symptoms. There have also been reports of fever and chills.

How good is Sputnik V?

In an “interim analysis” of the important test phase III with around 20,000 volunteers, Russian researchers came to an effectiveness of 91.6 percent. The results were also published in the medical journal “The Lancet” at the beginning of February 2021. They coincide with earlier statements.

An effectiveness of 91.6 percent means that 91.6 percent fewer diseases occurred in the vaccinated group than in the control group. This means that Sputnik V has roughly the same effectiveness as the vaccines from Moderna and Biontech / Pfizer and significantly higher than the agent from Astrazeneca. According to the Moscow authorities, Sputnik V also works with the more contagious variant B.1.1.7. The vaccination protection was established 21 days after the second vaccination.

How much of it does Russia sell and to whom?

56 countries around the world have approved Sputnik V, as reported by the state direct investment fund RDIF (as of March 24). He is involved in the financing of Sputnik V and takes care of the marketing of the vaccine.

In the EU, the preparation is already in use in Hungary and Slovakia, even without approval, the Czech Republic and Austria have signaled their interest – to the concern of the EMA: A representative of the EU Medicines Authority warned EU states that the Russian authorities should be warned before the EMA examination To use vaccine. Crucial data from vaccinated people are not available, said Christa Wirthumer-Hoche on ORF.

From around the middle of the year, 50 million people in the EU could be supplied with Sputnik V if the EMA gives its approval, said RDIF boss Kirill Dmitrijew in Moscow. The Russian vaccine for the EU is also to be produced here. According to Dmitrijew, production agreements have been concluded with companies in Germany and other European countries such as France, Italy and Spain. The RDIF does not give the names of these companies, nor does it provide clear information on the quantities sold and the contractual terms in each country.

Based on the price that the RDIF has quoted for the vaccination doses on the international market, the possible total turnover is estimated at 24 billion US dollars, as the Moscow newspaper “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” has calculated. The price for a dose was last given as less than 10 US dollars (about 8.40 euros). The Russian leadership hopes that trading in Sputnik V can bring in more than the export of arms.

What is the state of vaccination in Russia?

According to the government in Moscow, only five million Russians have been vaccinated so far, just 3.4 percent of the total population. This is very little compared to many other countries – especially considering that Russia has developed two other corona vaccines in addition to Sputnik V. Most recently, Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Muraschko announced herd immunity in the Russian population by the end of July. How this is to be achieved is unclear. In the Russian capital, where vaccinations are even carried out in the opera or in shopping centers, there are appeals on every corner to finally get the spades.

Why doesn’t Russia vaccinate its own people first?

The Russian Ministry of Health has always made it clear that the own population should be supplied first before Sputnik V is exported. Nevertheless, state media in Moscow report almost daily about new countries as buyers. Russia wants to use it to improve its image in other countries. Many people in the largest country in the world in terms of area are annoyed because Sputnik V gets abroad, but not to them in remote regions.

In addition, many Russians hesitate. According to surveys, the main problem is a widespread skepticism about vaccinations among the Russian population. Only 30 percent are currently ready to have the Russian drug Sputnik V injected, according to a recently published survey by the Levada opinion research center. The main reasons cited were fear of side effects and incomplete clinical trials.

The vaccination of Vladimir Putin is a big issue in Russia. The President let more than half a year pass since the Sputnik approval. On March 23, 2021, he received the first of two cans, according to Kremlin. Putin was camera shy, there are no recordings. It is also unclear which of the three preparations developed by Russian researchers he was vaccinated with.

Does Germany have any experience with Russian vaccines?

Russia has an “excellent tradition” in the manufacture and use of vaccines, praises the World Health Organization (WHO). These were also used in the GDR. The citizens had to complete a total of 17 compulsory vaccinations by the age of majority, explains historian Malte Thießen. From the 1950s onwards, the vaccines were initially bought by the Soviet Union, and later the GDR produced it itself – “but based on Soviet models.”

A success story was written with the use of the polio vaccine against polio. “In the race, the GDR was one step ahead of West Germany,” said Thießen. Thanks to vaccination, the number of sick people in the east fell sharply from the 1960s. Saxony-Anhalt’s Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff (CDU) also recalled this when he recently promoted the Russian corona vaccine.

(With material from dpa)

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