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Russia increases alleged effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine -- again

Caravanserai and AFP

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A nurse prepares to inoculate a 'volunteer' with the new Russian coronavirus vaccine in Moscow on September 10. [Natalia KOLESNIKOVA / AFP]

MOSCOW -- The Russian regime on Tuesday (November 24) announced its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine candidate is 95% effective, continuing a pattern in which Moscow simply adds percentage-point increases following announcements from manufacturers of rival international vaccines.

Scientists and observers around the world first shook their heads in consternation when the Kremlin on November 11 said Sputnik V was 92% effective, two days after Pfizer and BioNTech announced their vaccine had greater than 90% efficacy.

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

Now the Russians changed the effectiveness of Sputnik V to 95%.

The Russian regime added that its vaccine can be stored between two and eight degrees Celsius, instead of the temperatures below freezing required for some other vaccines.

The calculations of its effectiveness were based on preliminary data obtained 42 days after the first dose, the Russian Health Ministry, the state-run Gamaleya research centre and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in a statement.

The statement said that the vaccine had shown 91.4% effectiveness 28 days after the first dose, a figure based on just 39 cases.

Forty-two days later, after a second dose, data showed "an efficacy of the vaccine above 95%".

It did not note the number of coronavirus cases used to make the final calculation, however.

RDIF said more than 22,000 volunteers were vaccinated with the first dose and more than 19,000 with both doses.

Doesn't pass the smell test

The Russian claims do not pass "the smell test", Wayne Koff, who heads the nonprofit Human Vaccines Project, which is attempting to improve the design of future vaccines, said following the Kremlin's first Sputnik V efficacy announcement.

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

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.

BRICS includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

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

As doubts swell 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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