Serious doubts about the worthiness of the Covid-19 vaccine approved by Russia on Tuesday are further strengthened by the name strongman Vladimir Putin chose to give it: Sputnik- V. Which said more about his anxiety to beat the US and other western nations to the vaccine the world is desperately waiting for rather than for any concern about its efficacy and aftereffects. In 1957, amidst the Cold War, the Soviet Union had stolen a temporary march over the US by being the first to launch a satellite into space. Called Sputnik –I, it triggered a space war which eventually ended in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the US as the sole super power. Putin, the life-time dictator of the successor country, glories in the Soviet-era supremacy of his country, feeding Russians a strong dose of nationalism instead of economic well-being. Naturally, the Russian vaccine has evoked widespread skepticism in the global medical community.
Putin has sought to market its efficaciousness further by revealing that his own daughter had been administered a shot. He told a meeting of government officials on Tuesday, “ I know it works quite effectively, forms strong immunity, and I repeat it has passed all the necessary tests.” This was a false claim since the mandatory Phase–III trial involving thousands of participants was not conducted at all. No vaccine is given regulatory approval in the developed and developing world outside the Communist countries unless it has passed all three phases of trials. Indeed, the Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations, representing world’s top drug-makers based in Russia, urged the government to defer approval until the final trial was successfully conducted.
But, then, Putin was ready to launch his own version of Sputnik - 2020. Why be so casual with the health of millions? Produced by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, the platform used was the same which had earlier formed the basis of several vaccines, including those for the Ebola virus. The new vaccine carries an antigen of the coronavirus which on entering human cells is supposed to produce an immune response. What further arouses suspicion about the quality of the vaccine is the open admission of yet another extraneous objective behind it. Russian authorities hoped that the vaccine will help revive their economy. It was claimed that Russia had already received foreign requests for one billion doses and that it was expected to be produced in Brazil as well. The real danger of Sputnik –V is that it can arouse a false hope in the pandemic-hit global community and thus add further to its misery should it prove to be far from effective in nailing the Covid -19. People’s health ought to be above considerations of one-up manship between super powers.
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