The launch of the Covid-19 vaccine in Russia receives a cautious and mixed response

While enthusiasm and enthusiasm welcomed the coronavirus vaccine developed in the West when it was launched, the Russian-made version received a mixed response, with reports of empty Moscow clinics offering the blow to health workers and teachers are the first members of the public designated to receive it.

Kremlin officials and state-controlled media touted the Sputnik V vaccine as a major achievement after it was approved on Aug.11. But among the Russians, hope that the blow would reverse the course of the COVID-19 crisis mixed with mistrust and skepticism, reflecting concerns about how it was rushed while still in the advanced stages of testing to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Russia has faced international criticism for approving a vaccine that has not completed advanced testing among tens of thousands of people, and experts both at home and abroad have warned of its wider use until studies are completed.

Despite these warnings, authorities began offering it to certain high-risk groups, such as frontline health workers, within weeks of approval. Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine, said over 150,000 Russians obtained it last week.

One of the recipients was Dr. Alexander Zatsepin, an intensive care specialist in Voronezh, a city 500 kilometers south of Moscow, who received the vaccine in October.

We have been working with COVID-19 patients since March and every day, when we return home, we worry about infecting our family members. So when some sort of opportunity appeared to protect me and them, I thought it should be used, he said.

But Zatsepin said he still takes precautions against infections because studies on the effectiveness of the vaccine aren’t finished.

There is still no absolute confidence, he said.

After Britain announced on December 2 it had approved a vaccine developed by drug makers Pfizer and BioNTech, President Vladimir Putin told authorities to launch a large-scale inoculation campaign, a sign of Moscow’s enthusiasm for be at the forefront of the race against the pandemic.

Russia approved its vaccine after it was tested on only a few dozen people, advertising it as the first in the world to get the green light. The developers named it Sputnik V, a reference to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the world’s first satellite during the Cold War.

More than national pride is at stake. Russia has recorded more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 and over 48,000 deaths and wants to avoid another damaging blockade of its economy.

On December 2, Putin cited a target of over 2 million doses in the coming days. Despite such a limited offer for a nation of 146 million, Moscow immediately expanded who was eligible. The shots are free for everyone in medical or school facilities, both state and private; social and municipal workers; retail and service workers; and those of the arts.

The European Medicines Agency said it has not received a request from vaccine manufacturers to consider licensing it for use in the EU, but some data has been shared with the World Health Organization. The UN agency typically does not approve vaccines on its own, but expects regulatory agencies to step in first. The Russian vaccine is reportedly being studied for use in a WHO-led global effort to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.

Unlike in the UK, where the first shots go to the elderly, Sputnik V goes to people aged 18 to 60 who have no chronic disease and are not pregnant or breastfeeding.

Its developers said the study data suggests the vaccine was 91% effective, a conclusion based on 78 infections among nearly 23,000 participants. These are far fewer cases than Western drug makers accumulated during final tests before analyzing the effectiveness of their candidates, and important demographic and other details from the study have not been released.

A poll conducted in October by the Levada Center, Russia’s leading independent pollster, showed that 59% of Russians were unwilling to take the shots even if offered for free.

Denis Volkov, a sociologist and deputy director of the Levada Center, says respondents cited unfinished clinical trials, saying the vaccine was raw and suspected claims that Russia was the first country to have a vaccine while others were still working on theirs.

Some healthcare professionals and teachers interviewed by the Associated Press expressed skepticism about the vaccine because it has not been fully tested.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said more than 6,000 people received the shots in the first five days of vaccinations launched on December 5. But some media reports from the early days of the Moscow campaign showed empty clinics and health workers offering the shots to anyone who entered. In some cases, this is because the vaccine must be stored at minus 18 degrees Celsius and each vial contains five doses. Once thawed, it should be administered within two hours or discarded.

Implementation outside of Moscow and the surrounding region appeared to be much slower, with Health Minister Mikhail Murashko saying all regions began vaccination on 15 December.

Media reports have suggested that there may be problems with increased production and distribution of Sputnik V. It uses two different adenovirus vectors for the two-dose regimen, which complicates production. Additionally, low-temperature storage and transport make it more difficult to move around the vast country. There were also confusing signs that recipients should consume alcohol.

(Only the title and image of this report may have been reworked by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)