By Henry Meyer February 6, 2021, 12:30 AM EST Updated on
- Sputnik V’s 92% efficacy in peer review rivals U.S., EU shots
- Production capacity now main brake on Russian ambitions
President Vladimir Putin’s announcement in August that Russia had cleared the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine for use before it even completed safety trials sparked skepticism worldwide. Now he may reap diplomatic dividends as Russia basks in arguably its biggest scientific breakthrough since the Soviet era.
Countries are lining up for supplies of Sputnik V after peer-reviewed results published in The Lancet medical journal this week showed the Russian vaccine protects against the deadly virus about as well as U.S. and European shots, and far more effectively than Chinese rivals.
At least 20 countries have approved the inoculation for use, including European Union member-state Hungary, while key markets such as Brazil and India are close to authorizing it. Now Russia is setting its sights on the prized EU market as the bloc struggles with its vaccination program amid supply shortages.
In the global battle to defeat a pandemic that’s claimed 2.3 million lives in little more than a year, the race to obtain vaccines has assumed geopolitical significance as governments seek to emerge from the huge social and economic damage caused by lockdowns imposed to limit the spread of the virus. That’s giving Russia an edge as one of a handful of countries where scientists have produced an effective defense.
Its decision to name Sputnik V after the world’s first satellite whose 1957 launch gave the Soviet Union a stunning triumph against the U.S. to start the space race only underlined the scale of the significance Moscow attached to the achievement. Results from the late-stage trials of 20,000 participants reviewed in The Lancet showed that the vaccine has a 91.6% success rate.
“This is a watershed moment for us,” Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed Sputnik V’s development and is in charge of its international roll-out, said in an interview.