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Russian COVID vaccine: why more and more countries are turning to Sputnik V

Ready to launch: the Russian vaccine could help Europe’s rollout lift off. Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA

Russian COVID vaccine: why more and more countries are turning to Sputnik V

Ready to launch: the Russian vaccine could help Europe’s rollout lift off. Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA

Russian COVID vaccine: why more and more countries are turning to Sputnik V

Ready to launch: the Russian vaccine could help Europe’s rollout lift off. Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA

Russian COVID vaccine: why more and more countries are turning to Sputnik V

Ready to launch: the Russian vaccine could help Europe’s rollout lift off. Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA

While the initial reception of Sputnik V was critical, in February 2021, preliminary results of the phase 3 trials were reported with a 91.6% efficacy rate – the percentage reduction of disease in a vaccinated group of people compared to an unvaccinated group under trial conditions.
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Sarah Schiffling, Liverpool John Moores University and Liz Breen, University of Bradford

When the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, announced on August 11 2020 that the country’s health regulator had become the first in the world to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use, the news was greeted with scepticism. No trials had been completed on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

While the initial reception of Sputnik V was critical, in February 2021, preliminary results of the phase 3 trials were reported with a 91.6% efficacy rate – the percentage reduction of disease in a vaccinated group of people compared to an unvaccinated group under trial conditions.

The scientific results were clear. A commentary published in the Lancet concluded: “Another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19.”

While Sputnik V’s impact is unlikely to rival that of Sputnik 1, the first ever satellite that triggered the space race, it is still a significant product at a time when vaccines are urgently needed.

Besides meaning “satellite” in Russian, Sputnik also means “travelling companion”. More and more countries are now deciding to travel out of the pandemic with Sputnik V as one of their vaccine choices.

Sputnik V uses a viral-vector platform – which uses a harmless virus to introduce genetic material from the virus that causes COVID to your immune system – like the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines do. It was developed by the Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which has also been involved in developing vaccines for Ebola and Mers.

Sputnik V has two key advantages that make its distribution easier: it is among the cheapest COVID-19 vaccines and it can be transported easily. At US$10 (£7) a dose – the same as Johnson & Johnson – Sputnik V is only beaten on cost by the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which comes in at US$4 a dose. This means Sputnik V is more easily accessible for many countries struggling with the cost of vaccinating their population.

Like the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, Sputnik V does not require specialised storage. Its liquid version can be stored at household freezer temperatures. A version that can be stored at fridge temperatures is under development and a powder version also exists.

The lower cost and reduced complexity of Sputnik V’s logistics, initially seen as ways to easily bring the vaccine to remote regions of Russia, is appealing to many outside the country as well.

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