Dr Owain Williams By: Dr Owain Williams
Lecturer in IR and Human Security
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14 Aug 2020 : Russian Vaccine

All over the news yesterday was Putin's announcement that he was authorising the use of the newly developed vaccine - Sputnik V. His daughter has been part of a small cadre of people reciving it as part of a trial, way below the threshold for normal Phase 3 in terms of size, or really for Phase 2 for that matter. Mass vaccination in Russia will commence in October with the Philippines also on board. There is widespread concern that Russia has cut the normal checks and balances of phased investigation, and rushed the process through. This is justifiable, and even if it does work to some degree, there may be side effects and the immune response might not last.

The vaccine has been developed under the Russian Ministry of Health, in the Moscow-based Gamelaya Institute. The have modified adenoviruses, the viruses that normall cause a cold and are targetted the spike proteins of SARS-COVID. Meyerowitz-Katz in the Guardian hits the nail on the head, stating that we have no idea if it will work or not, and do so safely. Nonetheless trials countries (starting immediately) include Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Philippines are are also being signed up, with their idiot President offering himself up for innoculation. Trump has also stated that he will buy millions of doses.

But if it does not work or produces negative side effects what will this do for trust in vaccines generally and COVID vaccine particularly? This more than anything is the key worry for many, that it could really set back acceptance of vaccines in an age of vaccine science denialism. Give the rates of failure as vaccines move from any of the phases this is really Wild West science. If it works it will certainly have been a very luck shot indeed. Perhaps it will work, but we cannot know this at present and neither can the laboratory.

I really am wondering what Putin has to gain from this. It is obvious that if it works this will be a major coup for the President, but failure would be high-profile and very public. Is this to placate a domestic audience where handling of the pandemic has been poor and the economic impacts on Russia's struggling economy have been felt through low oil prices and collapsing commodities? Again, very high risk for a strong man to make a bad call as potentially big as this, while innoculating his own population. The open-up agenda is pressing in Russia as elsewhere - and maybe the economy is really on its knees and needing to get rolling with risk of failure being tolerable. Internationally, it is clear that Russia would get much cudos for altering the pandemic horizon, but again if this does not work it is egg on face for the President. The fact that Putin makes the announcement himself really gets me thinking about what the results from Phase 1 and 2 have been. It just doesn't make sense to throw caution to the wind without this looking very good? But again, such results cannot have been thoroughly tested by the normal route as of yet. What is going on here? All very bizarre.


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