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Putin’s Man in Ukraine Pushes Unproven Russian COVID-19 Vaccine

UKRAINE -- A child receives a vaccine injection at a kids clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine August 14, 2019.
Viktor Medvedchuk

Viktor Medvedchuk

Ukrainian politician

“Why should our people participate in the experiments of some foreign uncles, if there are those who have already conducted two phases of testing, have confirmed the possibility of using the vaccine and are ready to provide it?”


On October 21, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health announced that there would be no negotiations with Russia to purchase the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. Sputnik V is currently in its Phase III (final) trials, despite Putin, in an August announcement, declaring the vaccine had completed required testing.

“The state registration of a medicinal product is carried out exclusively on the basis of an application and the results of the examination of registration materials conducted by the State Expert Center of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine,” the Ukrainian ministry’s statement read.

“So far, no applications have been received from any entities regarding the state registration of the Russian Gam-KOVID-Vak vaccine in the prescribed manner. In addition, according to the available information, this product also did not pass the examination and registration with the competent authorities of the USA, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, Canada or the EU, which in fact makes it impossible to purchase and use it in Ukraine.”

The statement concludes by stating that Ukraine is set to receive a COVID-19 vaccine via the COVAX mechanism, an international initiative launched by the World Health Organization, the European Commission, and the government of France to ensure efficient access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are ready. It added that Ukraine is set to receive vaccines from AstraZeneca (U.K.) and Novavax (U.S.) “free of charge or at below-market prices.”

Nonetheless, on October 26, Viktor Medvedchuk, chairman of the Moscow-leaning Opposition Platform-For Life party and a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, criticized the Ukrainian government’s refusal to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Medvedchuk accused authorities of “reinventing the wheel.”

“Why should our people participate in the experiments of some foreign uncles, if there are those who have already conducted two phases of testing, have confirmed the possibility of using the vaccine and are ready to provide it,” Medvedchuk wrote on his personal Facebook page.

This is false.

First, Medvedchuk’s framing is misleading. While referring to Western vaccine providers as “foreign uncles” trying to “experiment” on Ukraine, he is recommending that Ukraine buy a vaccine that hasn’t completed testing from Russia, another foreign country.

In August, Putin announced the official registration in Russia of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology. Putin claimed the vaccine had passed all required testing and even said one of his daughters (he did not specify which) had already received the vaccine. found these claims to be misleading. At the time of Putin’s announcement, Sputnik V’s Phase III trials had not even begun (they started a day later, on August 12), and even Russian medical professionals expressed concern that the new vaccine had been tested on an insufficient number of patients.

One of the harshest reactions to Putin’s announcement came from Svetlana Zavidova, head of the Russian Association of Clinical Research Organizations, who called the Putin statement “ridiculous” and sent a letter of protest to the Russian Ministry of Health urging a delay in registering Sputnik V until all clinical trials are complete.

Another concern among international experts was the lack of transparency regarding results of the vaccine’s initial testing phases.

More than two months later, not much more is known about the vaccine’s efficacy, and there has been new cause for doubts.

On October 27, CNN reported that only 6,000 of the 17,000 people in Sputnik V’s Phase III trial had received the full vaccine. The same article quotes a virologist who said it’s impossible to tell if Sputnik V is able to make a person immune to the virus, which is officially named SARS-CoV-2. In terms of the number of patients enrolled in clinical testing, Sputnik V appears to be as much as two to three months behind U.S. manufacturers such as Moderna and Pfizer.

Another cause for concern is that the vaccine may not be fully effective. On October 28, the Russian news outlet RBK reported that some participants in the Sputnik V Phase III trials reportedly contracted COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus). However, it is possible those patients had received the placebo and not the vaccine.

Finally, the CNN report said Russia’s capacity to produce adequate amounts of the vaccine may be lacking to fulfill the domestic and international orders its promoters have been touting.

Prior to Putin’s announcement of the vaccine’s registration, Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s Direct Investment Fund, claimed that Russia would produce 30 million doses of the vaccine by the end of 2020, CNN reported. But even if Russia speeds up its current production, it’s unlikely to be achieve enough vaccine for 30 million people.

Considering that Russia has a population of 146 million, it is unclear how or if Russia might fulfill the large foreign orders it has reportedly received from countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and India.