Russia’s boast in August that it was the first country to authorize a vaccine for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) led to skepticism at the time because of its insufficient testing. Six months later, as demand for the Sputnik V vaccine grows, experts are raising questions again — this time, over whether Moscow can keep up with all the orders from the countries that want it.
Slovakia got 200,000 doses on March 1, even though the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s pharmaceutical regulator, only began reviewing its use on Thursday in an expedited process. The president of the hard-hit Czech Republic said he wrote directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin to get a supply. Millions of doses are expected by countries in Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East in a wave of Russian vaccine diplomacy.
“Sputnik V continues to confidently conquer Europe,” anchor Olga Skabeyeva declared on the Russia-1 state TV channel.
Dmitry Kiselev, the network’s top pro-Kremlin anchor, heaped on the hyperbole last month, blustering: “The Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, is the best in the world.”
State TV channels have covered vaccine exports extensively, citing praise from abroad for Russia and running segments about the difficulties countries are having with Western vaccines.
The early criticism of Sputnik V has been blunted by a report in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91 percent against the virus.
That could help revamp Russia’s image to one of a scientific, technological and benevolent power, especially as other countries encounter shortages of Covid-19 vaccines because richer nations are scooping up the Western-made versions or manufacturers struggle with limited production capacity.
“The fact that Russia is among five countries that were able to quickly develop a vaccine … allows Moscow to present itself as a high-tech power of knowledge rather than a petrol pump in decline,” said foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov.
Some experts say boosting the use of vaccines from China and Russia — which have not been as popular as those from the West — could offer a quicker way to increase the global supply. Others note that Russia wants to score geopolitical points. SOVEREIGNPH