Vaccination challenges: vaccine shortage and unfair competition

Poor quantity of vaccine manufacturing capacity against the backdrop of high global demand provokes unfair competition between manufacturers, as well as differentiation of countries based on their ability to contract the required volumes of vaccines.

Covid-19 has showed significance of having strong manufacturing capacity to produce high-quality and well-tested vaccines in the required volume. These very capacities will allow both vaccinating at a rapid pace and preventing attempts of the countries to market dubious and untested medicines. According to the statement of the director-general of the World Health Organization Tedros Ghebreyesus, 92 countries with low and middle income will be able to get the vaccine in the framework of the Covax global initiative promoted by WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. However, market saturation at current production volumes will be extremely slow.

Medical research centers, pharmaceutical companies and governments of some countries run information campaigns to discredit vaccines of rivals.

Moscow and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for Sputnik V vaccine promotion, are actively involved in mud-slinging campaigns. The spread of the Russian vaccine correlates with the Kremlin’s already existing geopolitical influence. First, Sputnik V was brought to the former Soviet republics, close to Moscow (Belarus and Kazakhstan), and the occupied regions of Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass). Later on, the vaccine was shipped to the Kremlin-friendly countries such as Serbia, Algeria, Iran, Myanmar, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and Paraguay. Russia is conducting a powerful information campaign in Latin America to discredit Western vaccines and popularize its own medicine.

Below are some of the recent disinformation narratives spread by Russian propaganda media and troll-factories under Kremlin’s control:

  1. Big pharma profits from coronavirus panic;

According to the Newsweek, the same Russian trolls who attempted to provoke racial tensions and influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election were also responsible for spreading propaganda against vaccinations.

A 2018 report by the American Public Health Association, titled “Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate,” came to a similar conclusion.

Moscow is negotiating about Sputnik V production with India, China, Brazil, South Korea, Hungary and Kazakhstan. The capital of Russia also launched the vaccine production talks with Tel Aviv (Israel itself uses Pfizer for civilians and Moderna for the military). However, Moscow ignored Tel Aviv’s request for reports and all data on the third stage of Sputnik V clinical trials.

Russia is in increasingly short supply of manufacturing capacity to produce vaccines in the volumes required to vaccinate the whole population of the country. For this reason, Russia has massively bought Western vaccines. However, social criteria of using this very medicine prevail over the logistic one. Thus, the heads of the state establishments and senior officials are shot with Western vaccines, and average citizens are vaccinated with Sputnik V.

Despite Russia’s incapability to provide its own vaccine for all 146.7 million people, Moscow is trying to sell its vaccine to other countries. The Kremlin truly hopes that Sputnik V widespread acceptance will expand Russia’s geopolitical influence. For example, the Russian Federation plans to market its vaccine in the EU. On January 29, RDIF officially applied to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to register Sputnik V in the EU and launch information submission process through a rolling review procedure.

Doubtfully, this data will be beyond of objectivity, since the third stage of Sputnik V clinical trials has not been completed yet. It is taking place real-time during the field vaccination of the population, as well as residents of Belarus and the annexed Crimea.

Russia will likely be unable to prove the high quality, effectiveness and safety of Sputnik V with the independent scientific expertise involved. At the same time, as the RDIF director Kirill Dmitriev states, the very fact that the Russian Federation has such a vaccine means breakthrough in scientific development that collapsed in the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. In Moscow’s idea, strong sale of the Russian vaccine is supposed to signal to the whole world that Russia has the most advanced technologies. In addition, the widespread use of Sputnik V aims at breaking long-existing stereotypes that Russia, according to John McCain, is ‘a gas station with atomic weapons’.

Today Sputnik V gains popularity nowhere. The choice in favor of this vaccine is explained by the realities of the volume of high-quality vaccines on the global market. For example, citizens of Serbia are declaratively asked to give personal preference to one of three vaccines — Pfizer, Sputnik V or SinoPharm. However, no matter how many residents choose Pfizer, only a Chinese or Russian vaccine will be available.

Therefore, limited contracts for Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are increasing demand for vaccines like Sputnik V.

It is a matter of grave concern that in case of a new pandemic of a virus exceeding SARS-CoV-2 mortality rate, the situation could rage out of control. A new outbreak of Ebola in the DRC or haemorrhagic fever in Bolivia heightens these fears. Therefore, the situation requires new approaches to increase safe vaccine manufacturing capacity globally, and prevent from using politically-motivated dubious medicines.



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