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Russia Struggles to Meet Global Orders for Sputnik V Vaccine

Russia Struggles to Meet Global Orders for Sputnik V Vaccine

Friday, 15 October, 2021 - 09:00
A vial with Russia's coronavirus vaccine is seen prior to a vaccination of a volunteer in a post-registration trial, Moscow, September 10, 2020. (AFP)

Esperita García de Perez got her first vaccination against COVID-19 in May. That, along with her Catholic faith, made her feel better protected against the virus, and she had hoped to get her second shot of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine a few weeks later.

But the 88-year-old is still waiting. She was infected with the virus last month, and now her hopes for survival are pinned on the host of medications and home care she is receiving.

Millions in developing nations from Latin America to the Middle East also are waiting for more doses of Sputnik V after manufacturing woes and other issues have created huge gaps in vaccination campaigns. One firm estimates that Russia has only exported 4.8% of the roughly 1 billion doses it promised.

The head of the Russian state-controlled fund that invested in the vaccine insisted Wednesday the supply problems have been resolved.

Venezuela, which designated Sputnik for those over 50, ordered 10 million doses in December 2020 but has gotten slightly less than 4 million. Argentina, the first country in the Western Hemisphere to administer Sputnik, got its first shipment Dec. 25 but it is still waiting for many of the 20 million it purchased.

Launched in August 2020 and proudly named after the world’s first satellite to symbolize Russia’s scientific prowess, Sputnik V has been approved in some 70 countries. Russian state media earlier this year broadcast triumphant reports about it “conquering the world” as Moscow aggressively marketed it after wealthy nations kept supplies of Western-developed vaccines for themselves.

Unlike other COVID-19 vaccines, Sputnik’s first and second shots are different and not interchangeable. Manufacturing in Russia has been marred by reports of production difficulties, particularly in making its second component. Experts have pointed to limited production capacity as well as the fact that the process is very complicated.

Sputnik is a viral vector vaccine, which uses a harmless virus that carries genetic material to stimulate the immune system. Manufacturers can’t guarantee stable output because working with biological ingredients involves a lot of variables in terms of the quality of the finished product.

Airfinity, a life science data analytics firm, estimates that 62 countries have supply agreements for about 1 billion doses of Sputnik V, with only 48 million doses exported so far. It said it isn't clear whether these doses are supposed to be delivered in 2021 or over a longer period.

Virus-battered Iran has received only about 1.3 million doses from Russia out of 60 million doses it had been promised. The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted the country’s ambassador to Russia as saying in April that the doses were expected to be shipped between May and November.

There are indications that Iran also has struggled with a shortage of Sputnik's second component. Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi last month urged those who received the first dose to get a second shot of AstraZeneca, citing the “uncertainty” of when Russia will come through.

A similar problem appears to have prevented Turkey from rolling out Sputnik altogether. Officials announced a deal to get 50 million doses in April, with news reports saying the vaccines would be delivered within six months. As of June, only 400,000 had arrived.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in August that Turkey has not been able to roll out Sputnik because it didn't have the second doses in hand. It’s unclear if Turkey still hopes to receive the second doses or if it has simply abandoned the rollout.

India was promised 125 million two-dose sets of Sputnik but had administered fewer than 1 million by Oct. 6.

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