Putin pushes Russian vaccines on heels of Western success announcements

Caravanserai and AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the XII BRICS Summit via videoconference outside Moscow on November 17. [Alexey NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/AFP]

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the XII BRICS Summit via videoconference outside Moscow on November 17. [Alexey NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/AFP]

MOSCOW -- As plans for COVID-19 vaccination programmes begin taking shape in Europe and the United States following recent breakthroughs, Russian President Vladimir Putin is desperately pushing members of the BRICS alliance of major emerging countries to mass produce Russian-made coronavirus vaccines.

Speaking during an online summit of the BRICS alliance -- involving Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- Putin encouraged the other four members to manufacture and distribute coronavirus vaccines developed by Russia.

"There are Russian vaccines; they work; they work effectively and safely... It's very important to unite our efforts for the mass release of these products into wide circulation," Putin said Tuesday (November 17).

The Russian leader did not offer specifics as to what broader efforts among the five countries to mass produce the vaccines would entail, nor did he outline the commercial conditions.

In August, the Russian regime announced that it had registered the world's first COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V -- named after the Soviet-era satellite -- but did so ahead of large-scale clinical trials.

Last month, Putin announced that his regime had registered a second coronavirus vaccine, EpiVacCorona.

Suspicious timing

American multinational pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer and BioNTech, a German biotechnology company, on November 9 announced their vaccine had greater than 90% efficacy -- infusing a great deal of hope into the global vaccine race.

Two days later, the Russian regime said its vaccine was 92% effective. To many, it looked as though the Kremlin just added 2 percentage points.

But the drumbeat of vaccine news has not been kind to its propaganda effort.

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Wednesday (November 18) that a completed study of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine showed it was 95% effective.

American biotechnology company Moderna, which developed its COVID-19 vaccine with the US National Institutes of Health, November 16 said that early results showed its candidate was 94.5% effective.

Putin's recent push to BRICS appears to be a desperate attempt to market Sputnik V, which is still undergoing testing, before countries sign contracts to buy verified, successful Western-made ones.

"It's very difficult to explain [the Russian] announcement," Svetlana Zavidova, a Moscow-based lawyer who heads Russia's Association of Clinical Trials Organisations and closely follows COVID-19 vaccine research and development in the country, said last week.

"I'm afraid they looked at the results of Pfizer and added 2%," she said, according to Science Magazine.

The Kremlin's "race" to be the first to develop a vaccine could impact efficacy and safety, many analysts worry.

As doubts increase about the safety of its Sputnik V vaccine, the Kremlin has begun amping up its rhetoric about the product.

Moscow's campaign to promote the vaccine has been heavy on patriotism and dismisses any criticism -- especially claims that the Kremlin is cutting corners on safety -- as anti-Russian smears.

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