In these days, mass vaccination against the coronavirus should actually begin in Russia. Health Minister Michail Muraschko had promised this at the beginning of October. However, like some of the earlier ones, this date will probably pass without consequences. Because even President Vladimir Putin admitted last week that there are problems with the production of the vaccine “Sputnik V”: It is about the lack of equipment at the production sites for the start of mass production.
Business correspondent for Russia and the CIS based in Moscow.
“Sputnik V” was provisionally approved in Russia in mid-August, even before the crucial third phase of the clinical studies had begun. This had caused indignation among doctors and politicians around the world. The tests on 30,000 volunteers are currently in full swing; the results are not yet publicly known.
Theoretically, the approval could be revoked if the results are poor, but no one expects that: After all, Putin is already praising the “safety” and “effectiveness” of the vaccine and praising the allegedly first vaccine in the world against Covid-19. In mid-October Putin announced the approval of the second Russian vaccine, “Epivakcorona”, of the state laboratory Vektor, which also has to go through the third phase of the clinical studies, which should start in November or December.
Production capacities not prepared in time
But now the lead that Russia has gained through the shortened test phase seems to be disappearing again. Because while large vaccine projects in other countries have long been producing their vaccines in parallel to clinical studies so that large quantities are available immediately in the event of a positive test result, the Russian managers did not prepare the necessary production capacities early on.
In addition to the state-owned Gamaleja Institute, which developed the vaccine, four Russian pharmaceutical companies are said to be producing “Sputnik V”. Among them “Binnopharm”, which is partly owned by the conglomerate AFK Sistema of the oligarch Vladimir Yevtushenkov, who bought the Real supermarket chain in Germany in February. The head of the “Binnopharm” parent pharmaceutical holding recently said in an interview that the requirements of the state exceeded the current possibilities of all producers “many times over”.
According to information from the business portal “The Bell”, the manufacturers have above all difficulties in ensuring the stability of the vaccine. This means that the active components of the vaccine should not change during manufacture, storage and transport. None of the companies wanted to give “The Bell” forecasts about vaccine quantities by the end of the year; three of the four companies stated that they were still preparing for mass production.
30 million doses “nonsense” by the end of the year
In the summer, Kirill Dmitrijew, head of the state investment fund RDIF, which co-finances “Sputnik V” and markets it abroad, still tainted that 30 million cans would be produced in Russia by the end of the year. That such unfounded assertions are now met with incomprehension, even in the country’s leadership, is shown by the statement by Industry Minister Denis Manturow from mid-October that it is “impossible” and “nonsense” to achieve these quantities so quickly. According to Manturov, a maximum of 2.3 million cans could be produced by New Year’s Eve. According to Dmitriev, 40 to 50 million Russians would have to be vaccinated to stop the pandemic.
At the moment, the vaccine would be needed primarily in those regions of Russia where the ailing health system is already collapsing among the many sick people. But it is not to be expected that Moscow, whose hospitals have so far been able to cope with almost 6,000 new infections a day, will go away empty-handed.