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Russia battles to meet global demand for Sputnik V vaccine

Russia is in a race of its life to meet the demands from across the globe on Sputnik V, a Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by the country.

According to Associated Press news on Thursday, millions in developing nations from Latin America to the Middle East are waiting for more doses of Sputnik V after manufacturing woes and other issues have created huge gaps in vaccination campaigns.

However, the head of the Russian state-controlled fund that invested in the vaccine disclosed on Wednesday that the supply problems have been resolved. Contrary to a claim that Russia has only exported 4.8% of the roughly 1 billion doses it promised.

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

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Sputnik V, launched in August 2020 and proudly named after the world’s first satellite to symbolize Russia’s scientific prowess, 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.

Judy Twigg, a professor in global health at Virginia Commonwealth University described the vaccine as “the only game in town,” but added that Russia’s window of opportunity “to really stake a claim as the savior” in the pandemic is gone.

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 cannot guarantee stable output because working with biological ingredients involves a lot of variables in terms of the quality of the finished product.

The Sputnik delays in Argentina and Venezuela have prompted some people to get a different vaccine for their second dose, even though scientists are still studying the effects of such mixing and matching.

Chris Beyrer, public health and human rights professor at Johns Hopkins University, noted that the early purchases of highly effective vaccines by the wealthiest nations have made it harder for developing countries to protect their populations.

“One dose is better than no dose. So, I think, for countries that have already started with Sputnik, it does make sense to go for the second dose, even if there’s been a delay,” he said.

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