Putin battles to sell Russia’s vaccine in new rift with West

Russian officials blame Sputnik’s difficulties on bias

Russia is accusing the West of maligning its achievements in the global race to defeat Covid-19 as attempts to win key markets for its Sputnik V vaccine run up against the demands of regulators.

“We understand the game,” Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed Sputnik V’s development and negotiates its international roll-out, said in an interview. “It’s a combination of some misunderstanding, some strong bias and, really, some very strong efforts to undermine the Russian vaccine.”

Like neighboring China, which is struggling to reassure nations testing its vaccines, Russia’s drive to convert what it calls a scientific triumph into geopolitical dividends has hit unexpected headwinds.

President Vladimir Putin has pushed the inoculation in calls with other world leaders since touting Russia’s approval of Sputnik V in August as the globe’s first Covid-19 vaccine. But many countries’ regulators have been unwilling to give Sputnik V fast-track approval — even as they welcome U.S. and European vaccines that first completed comprehensive trials.

The contest for access carries echoes of the Cold War space race triggered by the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, for which Russia’s vaccine is named. While Moscow was first into space, it was overtaken by the U.S. which landed a man on the moon 12 years later.

Russian officials blame Sputnik’s difficulties on bias. The Foreign Ministry recently described the vaccine race as the latest phase in a long-running disinformation “war” against Russia.

Regulators that have demanded more data say they’re just trying to ensure Sputnik V, which Russia approved weeks before Phase 3 studies to show its safety and effectiveness started, is as good as its backers say.

Take-up has been slow. It wasn’t until Dec. 21 that neighboring Belarus became the first country outside Russia to approve Sputnik V, and Argentina followed two days later. Argentina began vaccinations Tuesday with some 300,000 people expected to be given the Russian shot initially, and Belarus started its program the same day.

But India, Brazil and other major markets aren’t expected to sign off until next year, after more trials are done.

“Russia is using its vaccine program for soft power diplomacy,” said John Moore, a vaccine researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “It’s an international race, there’s nationalism at stake. But it all depends on the vaccines being effective and safe.”

The Russian vaccine got a boost earlier in December when AstraZeneca PLC agreed to test a combination of its inoculation with one of the two shots that make up Sputnik V. Putin took part in the video-conference announcing the signing of the deal live on national television.

(c) 112


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