Can we trust the Russian Sputnik V vaccine?

A new Sputnik moment?

It is in these circumstances when the Sputnik V vaccine arrives, the first to be registered, which had been developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow for a few months. The name, obviously, is not accidental since it refers to the space race and takes us to one of the moments of greatest political, scientific and cultural glory in the country, which gave it an advantage and global influence, and which spurred all science in what which became known as the “Sputnik moment.” With this name, Russia tries to go back to a time of great cultural and political influence, a nostalgic reference to a powerful past.

Shortly after registering the vaccine, the first critical voices are already emerging. In the scientific journal itself The Lancet where the results of phases 1 and 2 of the vaccine were published, several negative comments are collected from as many experts. These mainly allude to two ideas: that the Russian adenovirus vaccine is being overestimated by its creators, when the results are not yet reliable, and that, in this frantic race to develop the vaccine, the Russians are skipping steps in the usual procedure, which leads to ethical problems.

Undoubtedly, the efficacy percentages of the Sputnik V vaccine, as has happened with the rest of the vaccines, have been published with great haste when the vaccine was in massive trials of phases 2 and 3 in most of the countries and has there have been some doubts about its effectiveness, such as news about vaccinated toilets that later spread.

It is also true that the published efficacy results refer to very small population samples and that the fact that they were published immediately after the Americans may arouse some suspicion.

However, contrary to what the critics alleged, Russia appears to be following all steps of the usual procedure.

The article of The Lancet in September he made reference to the fact that mass vaccination would be implemented very quickly, when it is now when the campaign has begun (as in the United Kingdom), and expressed the ethical concerns derived from Russia requiring a kind of mandatory volunteerism for test the vaccine. Professor Charles Weijer has already expressed the importance of respecting firm ethical principles so that volunteers are well informed before they are offered to be inoculated with the vaccine. Furthermore, Russia is by no means the only country recruiting volunteers.

However, the complaints due to a lack of transparency in the Putin government cannot be ignored. As reported by some European media, last month the Ministry of Health prohibited health personnel from commenting on the situation of the pandemic without official authorization. In addition, although we have not been able to find evidence that the volunteers have been forced, there have been consistent claims that at least they have been pressured. Finally, the Sputnik V vaccine has not undergone any testing by independent bodies unrelated to the Russian government.

The difficulty of finding clear and truthful news about Russia makes the accusations of lack of transparency a fairly well-established reality. Without a doubt, hoaxes that try to undermine the country’s influence are common. However, the Russian government could counter them with truthful and crystal-clear state information on the situation of the pandemic in Russia and on the status of the vaccine.

There is no doubt that the Russian vaccine has attracted criticism, some of it very accurate, and it is not the only one (see China, whose first approval by an independent body was in the United Arab Emirates). However, taking into account the pressing global need for vaccines against Covid-19 and that each one that shows efficacy will have a positive impact for some country, perhaps it has been overly suspicious of the Russian one. Let’s remember that we are not in a race with a single winner.

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