Covid-19 has put governments in check. The power blocs have suffered the devastating effects of the pandemic, and both they and their actions have been questioned.
The race for vaccines has become the new space race: a struggle for the assertion of world hegemony where all political actors seek prominence. The United States now hopes to maintain its trail of power with those of Pfizer, and Moderna and the United Kingdom are eager to regain some of their influence with that of Oxford and AstraZeneca. But, What about Russia?
Until the outbreak of the pandemic, Russia appeared to be more concerned about its internal affairs than exteriors. Without reaching the autarkic component, the giant tried to exercise its global influence in a discreet way, focusing more on national issues. Putin’s populist government had long been trying to hold a referendum to, among other things, carry out a series of amendments to the current constitution and thus stay in power for longer. The referendum was initially scheduled to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir I. Lenin.
The pandemic arrived and all Putin’s plans were truncated. The two events that were to reaffirm the leadership of the Russian ruler (the referendum and a grandiose parade to commemorate the victory in World War II) were postponed. To make matters worse, as the pandemic progressed, Putin’s belated reaction, the incessant death toll, and the economic hardships derived from the situation caused the levels of citizen trust in his government they decreased by forced marches.
The situation was fragile and aroused criticism, both internally and internationally, about the lack of means of health workers and the precariousness of the health system (criticism common, on the other hand, to most countries). The Putin government needed a milestone, an event to counteract the situation, restore its leadership at home and establish a dominant position in world hegemony.
New Sputnik moment?
It is in these circumstances when the Sputnik V vaccine arrives, the first to be registered, which had been developed by the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow for a few months. The name, obviously, is not accidental because refers to the space race and takes us to one of the moments of greatest political, scientific and cultural glory in the country, which gave it a global advantage and influence, and which spurred all science in what became known as “moment Sputnik”. With this name, Russia tries to go back to a time of great cultural and political influence, a nostalgic reference to a powerful past.
Shortly after registering the vaccine, the first critical voices. In the scientific journal itself The Lancet where the results of phases 1 and 2 of the vaccine were published, they are collected various negative comments from as many experts. These mainly allude to two ideas: that the Russian adenovirus vaccine is being overestimated by its creators, when the results are not yet reliable, and that, in this frantic race to develop the vaccine, the Russians are skipping steps in the usual procedure , which leads to ethical problems.
Undoubtedly the percentages of efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine, as as has happened with the rest of the vaccines, have been released in a rush when the vaccine was in massive phase 2 and 3 trials in most countries and there have been some doubts about its effectiveness, such as news about vaccinated health workers that later spread.
It is also true that the published efficacy results refer to very small population samples and that the fact that they were posted immediately after the Americans may arouse some suspicion.
However, contrary to what the critics alleged, Russia seems to be following all the steps of the usual procedure.
The article of The Lancet In September he referred to the fact that mass vaccination would be implemented very quickly, when it is now that the campaign has started (on par with the UK), and voiced ethical concerns that Russia was requiring some kind of mandatory volunteerism to test the vaccine. Professor Charles Weijer already expressed the importance of respecting firm ethical postulates so that volunteers are well informed before being given to be inoculated with the vaccine. Further, Russia is by no means the only country recruiting volunteers .
However, complaints cannot be ignored due to lack of transparency in Putin’s government. According to some European media, last month the Ministry of Health He prohibited health personnel from commenting on the situation of the pandemic without official authorization. In addition, although we have not been able to find evidence that the volunteers have been forced, there have been consistent claims that they have at least suffered pressures . Finally, the Sputnik V vaccine has not undergone any testing by independent bodies unrelated to the Russian government.
The difficulty of finding clear and truthful news about Russia makes the accusations of lack of transparency a fairly well-established reality. Without a doubt, hoaxes trying to undermine the country’s influence they are common. However, the Russian government could counter them with truthful and crystal-clear state information on the situation of the pandemic in Russia and on the status of the vaccine.
There is no doubt that the Russian vaccine has drawn criticism, some of it very accurate, and is not the only one (see China, whose first approval by an independent body has been in the United Arab Emirates). However, taking into account the pressing global need for vaccines against covid-19 and that each one that shows efficacy will have a positive impact for some country, perhaps he has been overly suspicious of the Russian. Let’s remember that we are not in a race with a single winner.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.