“The most severe and I would say really unethical aggressive criticisms [of Sputnik V] were coming for competitive reasons and for geopolitical reasons,” said Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), adding that Russia has been working to dismantle bad-faith arguments with facts.
The RDIF funded the development of the pioneering Russian vaccine dubbed Sputnik V and is closely involved in its international marketing. On Monday, it signed an agreement with AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish Covid-19 vaccine maker, on researching possible benefits of combining the two products into a single immunization regimen. Dmitriev said this is exactly the kind of international cooperation that Russia wants to see.
“Partnership with AstraZeneca is another fact that is very difficult to ignore… They agreed that the approach makes scientific sense and we are starting clinical trials,” he said. “Step by step, there will be zero arguments for people who are trying to attack the [Russian] vaccine.”
If the combo proves to be better in some way than its separate ingredients, it would be a win for people in countries which are keeping the Russian product at arm’s length at the moment, Dmitriev pointed out. A trial will take at least several months, and Russia plans to have most of its population vaccinated by June, with Sputnik V remaining at the core of the immunization campaign.
The Russian developers believe that their product produces a longer-lasting immune response than AstraZeneca’s vaccine and that combining the two would help in that regard. If time proves them right, a second wave of immunization may be required in some Western nations, and the combo would be ready for deployment.
Meanwhile, countries that do cooperate with Russia will be offered a ‘Sputnik V-lite’, a single-shot variant of the vaccine. It’s basically a shot of a single component of two-shot Sputnik V, which offers less protection for a shorter time, but is logistically easier to distribute and cuts costs. The solution is meant as a firebreaker for cases of serious outbreaks.
“It’s sort of like a seasonal flu vaccine… You take it before winter and it protects you over the winter. This is what ‘Sputnik V lite’ would be doing,” Dmitriev explained.
The Russian vaccine is already well-recognized around the world and is proving quite popular. There are standing agreements to produce about one billion doses of Sputnik V in countries like China, India and Brazil. “Definitely we would like to increase supplies. We are in the process of working with other countries where we produce Sputnik V. We are transferring technology to those countries” in the spirit of cooperation, the official said.
Dmitriev assured that Sputnik V will most likely work against the new highly contagious strain of SARS-CoV-2 virus discovered in England as it did against other variants of the coronavirus. “There will be additional investigation, of course, but based on the data and the analysis of existing mutations our scientists believe that Sputnik V is efficient against this strain,” he said.
But surprises like the emergence of this new strain are the reason why countries should treat Covid-19 with cooperation rather than competition in mind, he added.
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