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Russia Is Struggling To Keep Up With Global Demand For Sputnik V Vaccine

In May, Esperita Garca de Perez had her first COVID-19 vaccine. That, along with her Catholic faith, made her feel more protected from the virus, and she had planned to receive her second dose of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine in a few weeks.

The 88-year-old, though, is still waiting. She was infected with the virus last month, and her chances of life are now dependent on a variety of drugs and home care.

Millions of people in impoverished countries from Latin America to the Middle East are also waiting for additional Sputnik V doses after manufacturing difficulties and other concerns caused massive gaps in vaccination programs. According to one assessment, Russia has barely sent 4.8 percent of the 1 billion pills it pledged.

The director of a Russian state-controlled institution that invested in the vaccination maintained on Wednesday that the vaccine’s supply issues had been handled.

Venezuela purchased 10 million doses of Sputnik for those over 50 in December 2020, but only received somewhat less than 4 million. Argentina, the first country in the Western Hemisphere to administrate Sputnik, received its first supply on Dec. 25, but many of the 20 million it ordered have still to arrive.

“I’ve been anguished for a long time, many months, because (the vaccine) was going to arrive, then it wasn’t going to arrive, then I was going to have to wait, then I wasn’t going to have to wait,” Garca de Perez explained, adding that “you want the certainty and hope that the thing is going to come.”

Sputnik V, which will be launched in August 2020 and proudly named after the world’s first satellite to represent Russia’s scientific superiority, has received approval from more than 70 nations. Russian state media boasted about it “conquering the globe” earlier this year, as Moscow aggressively pushed it after affluent nations hoarded supplies of Western-developed vaccinations.

For a time, it was “the only game in town,” according to Judy Twigg, a global health professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, but she believes Russia’s window of opportunity to “really make a claim as the savior” in the epidemic has passed.

Sputnik’s first and second injections are not interchangeable, unlike other COVID-19 vaccinations. Production problems have been reported in Russia, notably in the manufacture of the second component. Experts have cited a lack of manufacturing capacity as well as the complex nature of the procedure.

Sputnik is a viral vector vaccine that stimulates the immune system by using a harmless virus that contains genetic material. Because dealing with biological components entails a lot of variables in terms of the end product’s quality, manufacturers can’t guarantee consistent production.

According to Airfinity, a life science data analytics business, 62 nations have supply agreements for roughly 1 billion doses of Sputnik V, but only 48 million doses have been sold thus far. It is unclear if these dosages are to be administered in 2021 or over a longer period of time, according to the report.

“Full compliance of the Sputnik V supply contracts, including of the second component, after a successful production ramp-up in August and September,” according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which finances and markets the vaccine internationally and has production contracts with 25 manufacturing sites in 14 countries.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the fund’s CEO, Kirill Dmitriev, stated that all supply difficulties “have been totally handled.” All difficulties relating to the second component have been handled in all countries.”

“There isn’t a single vaccine producer on the planet that hasn’t had difficulties with vaccine delivery,” he added.

Although the West has primarily relied on vaccinations produced in the United States and Europe, such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, many poor countries have turned to China and Russia for vaccines that are simpler to get. Sputnik V has yet to be authorized for use by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency.

The delays in Sputnik supplies, along with a viral outbreak in March, prompted public pressure on Argentina’s government to speed up discussions with other pharmaceutical companies.

The initial deal was for a total of 20 million doses, of which the country has received around 14.2 million as of Tuesday. Later, a contract was negotiated for a local facility to manufacture the vaccine, with the active component coming from Russia. About 1.2 million initial doses and 3.6 million second doses have been manufactured.

Argentinian officials stated last month that the fund had sought the return of 1.3 million pills due to packing issues. The dosages have been swapped out.

Virus-battered Iran has only gotten around 1.3 million pills from Russia, out of a total of 60 million doses pledged. The Iranian news agency IRNA reported in April that the dosages will be delivered between May and November, citing the country’s envoy to Russia.

Iran may have also faced a shortfall of Sputnik’s second component, according to reports. Last month, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi advised individuals who had the first dosage to obtain a second AstraZeneca treatment, citing the “uncertainty” of when Russia would respond.

Turkey appears to have been unable to launch Sputnik due to a similar issue. In April, officials announced a contract to get 50 million doses, with press sources claiming that the vaccinations would be delivered in six months. Only 400,000 people had come as of June.

Twigg, a VCU professor, stated, “Russia missed that chance.” “I believe it has damaged Russia’s credibility in Iran, Guatemala, Argentina, and maybe Mexico, perhaps even more so than it would have been if it had done nothing, or if it had waited and made more attainable promises from the start, since people are disappointed.”

In August, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca stated that Turkey was unable to roll out Sputnik because it lacked the second dosage. It’s unclear whether Turkey still expects to get the second dosage or whether the launch has been abandoned entirely.

“It’s a black box operation.” Last month, opposition member Murat Emir questioned Koca about the status of the Sputnik rollout, particularly if Turkey would receive a reimbursement for the 400,000 pills that were not utilized.

Sputnik was supposed to be sent in 125 million two-dose packages to India, but only about 1 million had been distributed as of Oct. 6.

Although experts are currently researching the consequences of such mixing and matching, the Sputnik delays in Argentina and Venezuela have caused some patients to seek a different vaccination during their second dosage.

Dr. Chris Beyrer, a Johns Hopkins University public health and human rights professor, pointed out that wealthy countries’ early purchases of highly efficient vaccinations have made it more difficult for poor countries to safeguard their populations.

“A single dosage is preferable than no dose.” So, even if there has been a delay, I believe it makes sense for nations who have already begun with Sputnik to go for the second dosage,” he added. “However, if they aren’t getting the vaccination at all, they should look into alternative options.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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