European mistrust of the Russian vaccine is based on doubts about its real efficacy and the extremely low rate of vaccination in Russia itself.

A Pakistani nurse holds a vial of Sputnik V. EFE / EPA Shahzaib Akber

As the West does not know what to do with Russia or China, it does not know what to do with the vaccines endorsed by these regimes. Long before the European Union and the US approved the Pfizer, Moderna or Astra Zeneca vaccines, China was already vaccinating its risk groups with CoronaVac, the vaccine distributed by the Sinovac laboratory.

Since then, both this and other Chinese vaccines (Sinopharm, CanSino) It has spread throughout much of Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, especially among developing countries.

We can say something similar about the famous Sputnik-V. Approved in Russia following the emergency protocol in December 2020, its effectiveness is estimated to be around 92%, that is, very similar to that of Pfizer or Moderna and above that of Astra Zeneca.

Although the European Medicines Agency (EMA) continues to refuse to authorize its purchase in the European Union, the truth is that countries like Argentina, the United Arab Emirates or Serbia immediately incorporated it into their vaccination plans.

Not only that: the Orbán’s Hungary decided from the beginning to skip the recommendations and become the only country in the Union to massively use the Russian vaccine. Currently, an estimated 62 countries have administered or ordered doses.

World production of Sputnik V.

World production of Sputnik V.

In a context of vaccine shortage or, if you will, in a context where countries feel they can administer far more doses than they actually receive, it is normal to be searched everywhere. Recently, Germany considered the Russian option as valid while waiting for the EMA to resolve its opinion. It is also rumored that the vaccine may begin to be manufactured in Italy shortly, although there is no official confirmation in this regard.

As we know, the community of Madrid became interested in February, in the midst of the Astra Zeneca crisis, to acquire a significant stock. Presumably it was not the only region not the only government to do so in Europe.

Now, if Sputnik-V is so attractive, if it can compete so well with those produced in prestigious western laboratories, why is the European Medicines Agency refusing to give the green light to its massive use? The official version is that there is still not enough documentation about its effects on those vaccinated, although they are supposed to be in the tens of millions worldwide.

Faced with the persistent propaganda from the Kremlin and the Gamaleya National Research Center, the EMA twists the gesture and doubts. They think there is more politics than health and they don’t know how to measure each part, that is, how to avoid Russia’s attempt to influence geopolitically in Europe… and the possible goodness of the product itself.

The point is not trivial: recently, it was discovered that Slovakia, also in the European Union, had commissioned two million doses from an intermediary in a secret operation. Faced with protests from Brussels and internal pressure, the order was canceled and Prime Minister Igor Matovic has been forced to resign.

This same Wednesday, the EMA doubled the bet and announced an investigation into possible pressure on the volunteers who were part of the Sputnik-V test trials. In other words, It is not only that they do not have sufficient documentation, it is that they do not trust at all what they have.

Percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Our World in Data

In any case, there is a surprising fact in the middle of this story that seems to be taken from a book by John Le Carré: if the Russian vaccine is so good, if it can be exported to so many countries and if it is really so necessary, it would be logical think that the country that already authorized it in December and that has its production and its patent, He would be vaccinating at full speed and without stopping, in the style of what Israel did at the time. Well, it’s not being that way.

According to official WHO data, Russia has fully vaccinated 3.18% of its population. The total of administered doses barely reaches 12 million. For comparison, Spain, with a third of the Russian population, has already administered nine million and has 6.13% of its citizens with the full guideline. In the United Kingdom they exceed twenty million doses administered.

Obviously, something does not square between the constant Russian willingness to sell vaccines to everyone and its own vaccination problems. It is true that Russia is a huge country, but its bureaucratic structures are robust, inherited from the Soviet Union, and the state reaches every corner of society.

Either there is no will to vaccinate or simply there are not as many doses as it is constantly repeating. If the shortage is added to its unreliability – of the vaccine or of the country, that is the reader’s decision – the announcements that its authorization in the EU is immediate are still somewhat premature.

Is it normal that in the meantime the administrations are groping with intermediaries? Yes it’s normal. Another thing is the reliability of some intermediaries, which we already saw during the respirator and protective equipment crisis in March 2020. Offering is easy, complying is more complicated.

If the European Union is already playing with the continuous informational swings regarding the Oxford vaccine, embracing the Russian or Chinese bet can heighten citizen mistrust, which is the last thing we want. Now, here, as in everything, the question is the balance between risks and benefits. This is where the EMA is and the issue seems to go far beyond the health issue.