Sputnik v
© Sputnik / Alexey Kudenko
FILE PHOTO.
Clinical trial data published in The Lancet medical journal this week shows the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine works for more than nine in 10 people, making it among the most efficacious jabs available.


Comment: Reports appear to confirm that it is the most efficacious vaccine available for the relatively harmless coronavirus:

The formula has been at the center of a fierce information war, with a number of commentators casting aspersions on the evidence that underpinned Russia's decision to urgently register it in August last year. However, it appears that the final word on subject lies with the scientists who published their results on Tuesday.

More than 91 percent of those given the vaccine were estimated to have developed immunity, and those who did contract the virus were less likely to become seriously ill even after receiving only one shot. The analysis, based on over 20,000 participants across the world, would appear to tick the box for reaching the gold standard of pharmaceutical evidence.

Commenting alongside the findings in The Lancet, British scientists Ian Jones of the University of Reading and Polly Roy from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine praised the science behind the jab. "The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency," they said, "but the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19."

It hardly requires a microscope to see the scale of the campaign against Sputnik V in Western media. Straight out of the gates in August, comments from Professor Francois Balloux, a biologist at the UK's prestigious University College London, were picked up by global news outlets. "The Russian vaccine gamble is reckless and foolish, whether 'it works' or not," he wrote on Twitter.


Additionally, while the start of vaccination programs were covered as a technological feat in the West, UK and American news portrayed Russia's rollout as a hasty, dodgy endeavor met with skepticism by ordinary Russians. By suggesting that a government, any government, would jeopardize the health of the nation with an untested vaccine, unfortunately, plays straight into the hands of anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists.

Social media users mocked the idea that Russia could be in pole position in the race towards immunity, with memes circulating suggesting that the vials contained nothing but vodka. However, as wary as some might be about the prospect of anything originating in the world's largest country, many will find that they end up in line for Sputnik V.

Dozens of states have already muscled their way onto the Sputnik V order book, with countries like India, Brazil and Argentina receiving their first shipments of supplies. But, while Western nations have largely held out so far, that picture might be about to change.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government had "received good data today from the Russian vaccine." She added that "every vaccine is welcome in the EU, but only after it has been approved by [the bloc's central regulator, the] EMA." Last month, the organization said that it was considering an application to approve the formula. Hungary, which had ordered vials for clinical research, approved it independently and is awaiting clearance from Brussels to begin injections.

However, Western politicians desperate to bolster immunity among their locked-down populations in a bid to return to normality might encounter obstacles of their own creation. After years of increasingly strained relations with Moscow, lawmakers in Washington, London and EU capitals will likely be concerned that anti-Russian sentiment and the aspersions initially cast on Spuntik V could hamper immunization efforts.

The UK-based pollster YouGov conducted a survey of 19,000 adults across 17 countries to determine their attitudes to vaccines based on where they had been developed. People in Italy, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK, US, Denmark, Poland, Sweden, France and Germany all had net unfavorable scores for a Russian-made jab, even before they'd seen any evidence of its safety.


Comment: The power of propaganda.


The idea that political narratives and geopolitical tensions could stand in the way of a life-saving immunization program should be a worry for officials. As part of efforts to ensure everyone who is eligible for jabs actually rolls up their sleeve for one, conspiracy theories and distrust have to be seen as a public health issue. Either way, if vaccination is the route back to normal life for millions across the world, Sputnik V could soon be coming to a clinic near you.


Comment: Leaders throughout much of the West have shown no intention that their aim is to get back to normal; a new normal, perhaps.



'All vaccines welcome' - Merkel


The EMA has so far approved the three Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford partnership, respectively, for use in the bloc.


Comment: Two of which are using experimental 'technology' and all with particularly shady studies reporting on their apparent efficacy - and yet, despite this, they received emergency approval months ago.


The vaccine rollout across the EU's 27 member states has been criticized as sluggish compared to nations like Israel, the US and UK, which have immunized higher percentages of their populations.


Merkel has also come under fire in Germany over the country's vaccination strategy, which has seen around three out of every 100 people given the jab, compared to the rate of 15 per 100 reported in the US and UK.

On Monday, the chancellor responded to claims that the German vaccination strategy is inadequate, saying "something can always occur during production that cannot be anticipated."

Vaccination campaigns across the EU have been dogged by shortages of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs. Both companies cited production issues at European manufacturing plants for a temporary drop in their projected deliveries.


Comment: EU countries claim to be concerned about the virus and yet they've clearly hampered the approval of Russia's offering.


Pfizer has since said it will deliver up to 75 million more vaccine doses in the second quarter of 2021, while AstraZeneca has pledged to deliver 40 million doses in the first quarter - 9 million more than it had previously promised after the production issues arose.

Last week, the official Twitter account promoting the Sputnik V vaccine said that, if the jab is approved by EU regulators, the Russian Direct Investment Fund could provide the bloc with 100 million doses in the second quarter of this year.

Mexico greenlights emergency use of Sputnik V

Deputy Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell told reporters on Tuesday that the vaccine had been authorized for import and use on an emergency basis, after hinting last week that approval would come within a matter of days.

"COFEPRIS has just granted a permit for the emergency use of the Sputnik V vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Epidemiology and Microbiology Center," Lopez-Gatell said at a press conference, referring to Mexico's federal health regulator.

"Thus, it is becoming possible to import the drug and use it."

For trial participants older than 60 - a more vulnerable population - the immunization showed 91.8 percent efficacy, while it proved 100 percent effective in preventing severe cases of the illness.

Mexico City recently inked a deal with Moscow to obtain some 7.4 million doses of Sputnik V between February and April, with another delivery set for May. The vaccine, the first to be deployed in the global battle against Covid-19, is set to become Mexico's most heavily used inoculation during that period, especially as Pfizer temporarily halted deliveries of its own jab last month, citing supply chain issues in European factories. It will be distributed alongside China's CanSino Biologics vaccine, as well as that of British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca.

Tuesday's announcement also comes a little over a week after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador tested positive for the coronavirus himself, though health officials noted over the weekend that his symptoms remain "mild." He is now about halfway through his quarantine, after which he will return to his regular public schedule.

Throughout the pandemic, Mexico has tallied more than 1.8 million coronavirus infections and just shy of 160,000 deaths, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.