The Sputnik V vaccine potentially fills the supply gaps that the EU is encumbered with. Immediately.
It is now one year since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic from the novel coronavirus and its accompanying Covid-19 disease. Worldwide, the death toll stands at 2.6 million and continues to rise.
The arrival of effective vaccines has offered new hope that the deadly virus can be eradicated. Sputnik V, the Russian manufactured vaccine, was the first to be registered anywhere in the world as of August last year and has since been proven by large-scale trials to be highly effective and safe. What’s more, it appears to be effective against new variants of the virus whose uncertain emergence threatens the objective of successful immunization and pandemic defeat.
Over 40 countries have so far officially approved the use of Sputnik V and worldwide interest appears to be growing for deploying the Russian jab. Compared with Western alternatives, it is much more affordable – by a factor of 10 – and can be stored and transported easily without hi-tech conditions. This is of particular importance for scores of poorer nations across Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Russia’s willingness to supply its vaccine to other nations reflects a sound medical strategy of promoting widespread and speedy immunization. The global pandemic requires a collective solution. No nation is safe until all are safe.
Meanwhile, the United States, Britain and the European Union stand accused of “vaccine nationalism”, whereby they are prioritizing their own national protection to the neglect of others. Not only is this ethically dubious, it is also misguided. As long as the Covid-19 virus continues to spread in other parts of the world, then new, more deadly variants can evolve through mutation which can in turn counteract vaccination efforts, even in those nations which are striving ahead with rollout success among their own populations, as in the US and Britain.
Europe has particular challenges. Its vaccination rollout has been dogged by supply chain delays and politically the 27-nation bloc must be seen to act in concert which slows overall administering.
Three vaccines have been approved so far by the EU: those of Oxford-AstraZeneca (Anglo-Swedish); Pfizer-BioNTech (American-German); and Moderna (American). A fourth vaccine from Johnson & Johnson gained approval this week, but it may take weeks before it reaches arms.
And there are other problems. Several EU nations have halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following a number of blood-clot (thrombosis) deaths among people who were injected. It is not clear if the deaths were a direct result of the jab. In the meantime, administering the vaccine has been reportedly suspended in Austria, Denmark and Italy. Non-EU nations Iceland and Norway have also put the brake on the AstraZeneca treatment.
This can only compound the EU’s already sluggish rollout program. First, it hits public confidence in taking up the vaccine even if it is cleared of side-effect risks. That will in turn place a burden on the supplies of the other three approved vaccines.
The longer the delay in vaccinating the European population the greater the danger of new variants emerging, and hence the longer the delay in returning societies to pre-pandemic normalcy. Populations are becoming restive over protracted lockdowns. Economies and livelihoods have been wrecked by the pandemic. Millions of jobs have been lost. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development this week urged the EU to speed up vaccination coverage in order to salvage recovery as soon as possible.
This is the context in which EU official reluctance to deploy Russia’s Sputnik V must be seen. The European Medicines Agency – the regulator for vaccines – has still not approved the Russian shot even though the requisite data for application for use had been submitted two months ago by the Russian developer of the vaccine.
The inordinate delay by the EU authorities is at odds with the proven scientific success of Sputnik V and growing demand worldwide. Public statements by EU officials expressing a cynical view of the Russian jab point to a deplorable politicization of the pandemic. (Ironically, they accuse Russia of politicizing it.)
Instead of embracing Russian offers of its vaccine – offered in the spirit of partnership and prudent medical strategy to eradicate the virus – EU politicians, such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her predecessor Donald Tusk, have been gratuitously invoking a Cold War politics of competition and adversity. There are snide accusations that Russia is using “vaccine soft power” to cause division within the EU and more generally promote the image of the Kremlin around the world.
This Russophobia and Cold War mindset is reprehensible. It is putting politics above public health and safety based on irrational prejudice.
With nearly 900,000 deaths so far, continental Europe accounts for almost a third of the world’s total from Covid-19 over the past year. Europe’s toll compares with the United States’ figure of 530,000 deaths.
Russia, the largest country in continental Europe, has a vital interest in eradicating the pandemic. Russia’s death toll stands at around 88,000.
Moscow is offering the European Union a win-win solution. The Sputnik V vaccine potentially fills the supply gaps that the EU is encumbered with. Immediately.
Already, in any case, European nations are moving on their own to avail of the Russian jab. This week saw Italy arriving at a deal with the Russian developer – the Russian Direct Investment Fund and Gamaleya Institute – to license production of Sputnik V in Italy. Other local production agreements are reportedly being negotiated by Germany, France, Spain and Finland. EU members Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have already ordered up the Russian vaccine.
Polls show high confidence among the EU public for the Russian treatment.
The reluctance to take up Sputnik V by sections of the EU leadership in Brussels is contradicted by individual nations going ahead to avail of the Russian jab. The irrational Russophobia of some EU leaders is a result of their customary propaganda depictions of Russia which denigrate their biggest neighbor as an aggressor and malign actor. Thus, they are being held hostage by their own reprehensible Russophobia when it comes now to making a rational policy about defeating the pandemic. And the wider European public are paying the price for this Russophobia and anachronistic Cold War mentality.
Russia is offering a win-win solution based on scientific achievement, human solidarity and strategic medical cooperation. Those impeding this solution are exposed for criminal negligence and dereliction based on nothing more than ingrained, irrational Russophobia. If there comes to be division and revolt across the EU over the pandemic, it has nothing to do with Russia’s design and everything to do with failed European leadership.