Russia struggles to meet global orders for Sputnik V vaccine

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Esperita Garcia de Perez got her first vaccination against COVID-19 in May. She felt more protected by the virus thanks to her Catholic faith and the second shot of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccination a few weeks later.

Russia struggles to meet global orders for Sputnik V vaccine

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Esperita Garcia de Perez got her first vaccination against COVID-19 in May. She felt more protected by the virus thanks to her Catholic faith and the second shot of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccination a few weeks later.

The 88-year old is still waiting. Her survival chances are now dependent on the medications she takes and the home care she receives.

Millions of people in the Middle East and Latin America are also waiting for Sputnik V, as a result of huge gaps in vaccine campaigns due to manufacturing problems. According to one firm, Russia has exported only 4.8% of the approximately 1 billion doses that it promised.

Wednesday was a day when the head of the Russian state-controlled bank that invested in the vaccine insists that the supply problem has been solved.

Venezuela, which had designated Sputnik as a drug for people over 50 years old, ordered 10,000,000 doses of Sputnik in December 2020, but has received slightly less than 4 Million. Argentina was the first country in Western Hemisphere that administered Sputnik. It received its first shipment Dec. 25, but is still waiting for the remaining 20 million.

Garcia de Perez stated that it took me a while to feel anguished that (the vaccine) would arrive. Then it didn't arrive. Garcia de Perez added that "you want the certainty that it will arrive."

Sputnik V was launched in August 2020. Named after the first satellite in space to represent Russia's scientific achievements, it has been approved by around 70 countries. Russian state media broadcast triumphant stories about the "conquering of the world" in August 2020. Moscow aggressively promoted it after wealthy countries kept Western-developed vaccines for their own use.

It was for a time "the only game in town," Judy Twigg, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in global health, said. However, she added that Russia's window to "really stake a claim as a savior" is now closed.

Sputnik's first shot and second shot are distinct from other COVID-19 vaccines. There have been reports of problems in Russia's manufacturing, especially in the production of its second component. Experts point out the limited production capacity and the complexity of the process.

Sputnik, a virus vector vaccine, uses harmless viruses to stimulate the immune system. Because biological ingredients are complex, manufacturers can't guarantee a stable product. There are many variables that affect the final product.

Airfinity, a life sciences data analytics company, estimates that there are 62 countries with supply agreements for approximately 1 billion doses Sputnik V. Only 48 million doses have been exported to date. The company said that it wasn't clear if these doses will be delivered in 2021, or over a longer time.

Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets and bankrolls the vaccine overseas, has production contracts with 25 manufacturing locations in 14 countries. It says that it is in complete compliance with the Sputnik V supply agreements, including the second component. This comes after a successful production ramp up in August and September.

Kirill Dmitriev (CEO of the fund) stated in an interview with The Associated Press, that all supply problems "have been completely resolved." All issues relating to the second component have been resolved in all countries.

He stated that "there isn't one vaccine manufacturer anywhere in the world that doesn't have problems with vaccine delivery."

While the West relied heavily on vaccines manufactured in the U.S. or Europe (e.g. Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca), many developing countries have sought out cheaper vaccines made in China and Russia. Sputnik V has not been approved for use by the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization.

Argentina's delays in Sputnik shipments and the virus outbreak in March prompted public pressure to the government to accelerate negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies.

The initial agreement provided for 20 million doses. As of Tuesday, the country had received approximately 14.2 million. An agreement was later signed to allow a local laboratory the ability to produce the vaccine using the active ingredient from Russia. It has produced approximately 1.2 million doses of the first vaccine and 3.6 million doses of the second.

Officials from Argentina stated this month that the fund had requested the return of 1.3 Million doses due to packaging reasons. They have been replaced.

Only 1.3 million of the 60 million doses Russia promised to Iran have been delivered to this virus-affected country. According to IRNA, the Iranian ambassador to Russia stated in April that doses would be sent between May and November.

There are signs that Iran has also struggled to get the second component of Sputnik. Alireza Raisi, the Deputy Health Minister, advised last month that those who had received their first dose of AstraZeneca to receive a second dose. She cited the "uncertainty” of when Russia would come through.

Similar problems may have stopped Turkey from launching Sputnik. Officials announced in April that 50 million doses of vaccines were to be purchased. News reports claimed the vaccines would arrive within six months. Only 400,000 vaccines had been delivered as of June.

Twigg, a VCU professor, said that Russia "squandered this opportunity." "I believe that in some cases it has actually left Russia’s reputation in Iran and Guatemala, Argentina, possibly Mexico, perhaps even worse than if it had done nothing or waited and made more fulfilling promises from the beginning. People are disappointed."

Fahrettin Koca, Turkish Health Minister, stated in August that Turkey was unable to roll out Sputnik as it did not have the second doses. It is not clear if Turkey hopes to continue receiving the second doses, or if it has abandoned the rollout.

The whole process is opaque. Murat Emir, an opposition lawmaker, said last month that there is no transparency in the Sputnik rollout. He also asked Koca if Turkey would be reimbursed for the 400,000 doses it had not used.

India was promised 125,000,000 two-dose sets Sputnik, but India had administered less than 1 million units by Oct. 6.

Some people have decided to receive a second dose of the vaccine after suffering from Sputnik delays in Argentina or Venezuela. However, scientists are still investigating the effects of mixing and matching.

Chris Beyrer is a Johns Hopkins University professor of public health and human right. He noted that developing countries have had to face more challenges in protecting their populations because they were unable to purchase vaccines as soon as possible.

"One dose is better that no dose." He said that it makes sense for countries who have started Sputnik to get the second dose even if they are delayed. "But, if they aren't getting the vaccine at all, they should look at other vaccines."

You need to login to comment.

Please register or login.

RELATED NEWS