What’s the point of being first when even the president doesn’t believe the vaccine’s effectiveness?11.01.2021
I think it would be correct to say that most of the people on the globe are concerned about the Covid-19 vaccine. Scientists want to create the most effective version of the vaccine, politicians want to create the impression they are somehow helping, people want to remain healthy and businessmen want to make profits. Each of us has their own reasons, but all of us must be careful so that the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t turn out to be the edge of a cliff.
The race to develop a vaccine against Covid-19 was joined by anyone who felt able to do so. Obviously, those who will take the first places in this race will not only receive fame and praise, but also much more – money and power. Therefore, we shouldn’t be naïve and think that all the players intend to follow the rules of the game.
Everyone started developing the vaccine at the same time, so only intellectual and technological capabilities should have determined who succeeded first. It’s a different story whether this was the case, but let’s start by looking at several facts.
On 11 March 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that there is a global Covid-19 pandemic.1 I believe that at that point there weren’t a lot of people who understood that a vaccine is the only safe solution to the problem.
Back then, it was assumed that the world will need at least a year to develop and test the vaccine before it is used on citizens.2
On 11 August, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia has registered the first vaccine in the world against the novel coronavirus and that his daughter has already received the vaccine, which was named Sputnik V in honor of the USSR satellite. The third phase of trials was to begin on 12 August and mass production already in September. Already 20 nations have ordered over a billion doses of the Russian vaccine.3
I will note that even in such a situation the Kremlin didn’t forget to praise the USSR. We also have to remember the comments about Putin’s brave and heroic daughter who wasn’t afraid to receive the vaccine. We didn’t even find out which daughter got the vaccine, and then everything fell silent.
The vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology. The center has a long history – it was established in 1891 as the private chemical, microscopic and bacteriological cabinet of F. M. Blumenthal and later transformed into the Private Chemical Bacteriological Institute of F. M. Blumenthal. In 1919, it was nationalized and became the State (later – Central) Bacteriological Institute of the RSFSR’s People’s Commissariat of Health.
The institute changed its name a couple of times more but its functions remained the same – solving fundamental problems in the spheres of epidemiology, medical and molecular microbiology and immunology. The research widely employs specific epidemiological models – the dynamics and pathological structure of the infectious disease, natural hotbeds of the infection, genetics, molecular biology, ecology and resistance of bacteria, general and infectious immunology issues, including immune regulation and immune correction.4
I should add that the activities of the center are not widely reported on by the media, which in turn means that it serves the military sphere. And we know that nothing much has changed in Russia since Soviet times and almost everything there is made to serve the military sphere.
Perhaps, it is because of this reason that we heard the news that three government-linked hacker groups from North Korea and Russia launched cyberattacks against organizations working on the development of the Covid-19 vaccine in multiple countries, including France, South Korea and the US, as reported by Microsoft.5 On 17 July, the UK, the US and Canada accused Russia of attempts to steal information from researchers working on the Covid-19 vaccine.
Three countries were certain that they were targeted by the hacker group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, which is believed to be subordinate to Russian intelligence services. The same hacker group is accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election.6
Many organizations developing the vaccine are working in a single direction because the amount of information is so vast, especially if the organization works alone, while Russia doesn’t want to stop, and this is very interesting.
“I would like to begin with something else, with positive information – today, the Novosibirsk center Vector has registered Russia’s second coronavirus vaccine EpiVacCorona,” Putin announced during a meeting with government representatives. He said that this will be an “amazing vaccine”, adding that the third vaccine, developed by the Federal Scientific Center for the Research of Immune and Biological Products RAN, will also be finished soon.7
Some of you may ask – why do I consider it interesting that Russia is developing several vaccines? The answer is simple – in Russia, everything is owned either by the state or by a small group of businessmen with close ties to the state. All of the organizations developing the vaccine are state companies, which means that all of the financial profits along with the glory and praise will go to the state.
It would be a different story if the vaccines were developed by private companies, because then they would compete to have the most effective and cost-efficient product. Therefore, it’s difficult to find a logical explanation to Russia’s approach.
Consequently, if Sputnik V is indeed such a successful vaccine, why is there the need to develop other vaccines? If we remember history, the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite was not because of the Soviet Union’s remarkable achievements in the space industry – missiles had been developed to transport nuclear warheads, but at that time Soviet scientists were able to prevent the warhead from falling apart. So, in order to prevent the waste of materials and to scare the US a bit, the Soviet Union decided to use the missile to launch a satellite. Let’s hope that it won’t be the same with the vaccine.
At the moment, it looks like the vaccine has been developed better than the missile, and Russians are already receiving it.8 On 5 December in Moscow, vaccinations using the Sputnik V vaccine began and the first to get the vaccine were healthcare, education and social workers. There are roughly 70 vaccination stations in the city, and anyone aged 18-60 with no chronic illnesses can sign up for the vaccine. It is reported that the process takes 60 minutes – 10 minutes for the doctor to inspect the person, 15-20 minutes to prepare the vaccine and administer it and 30 minutes for post-vaccination observation.9
Is this serious? This looks more like a vaccine being tested, instead of a tested vaccine being administered. And in a way Putin has confirmed this himself. He is constantly boasting that Russia has developed safe and effective vaccines, but he doesn’t intend to get vaccinated himself. On 26 November, Putin’s spokesperson said: “We have not yet commenced large-scale vaccination, and the head of the state cannot be a volunteer. It is not possible; the president cannot be vaccinated with an uncertified vaccine.”10
If everything is fine and the vaccine is effective, why isn’t Putin being vaccinated in order to show an example to the Russian people?
The situation is a bit different in other countries. Three former US presidents Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush have volunteered to be publicly vaccinated against Covid-19 to convince the public that vaccination is safe.11 Even Queen Elizabeth II (94) and her husband Prince Philip (99) have agreed to receive the vaccine because their doctors advised them to do so. However, the queen and her husband will have to wait in line to receive the vaccine – just like everyone else. The media reported that the fact that they are monarchs doesn’t grant them the privilege to get vaccinated first.12
Indeed, no country is as rich with human resources as Russia, or in other words – in most countries human life and health has some value. If Putin doesn’t intend to receive the Russian-produced famous vaccine, it sends an interesting signal to the Russian people and anyone else considering the Russian vaccine. If the head of the state doesn’t trust the vaccine, why should anyone else?
Zintis Znotiņš INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR COUNTERING RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA