Sputnik V (yes, named after the first satellite) vaccine…
This vaccine (also called Gam-COVID-Vac) was developed by Russia’s Ministry of Health (Gamaleya Research Institute). The vaccine is 2 doses, 3 weeks apart. It’s an adenovirus (like AstraZeneca) that needs to be stored in a freezer. The innovative aspect of this vaccine is that scientists combined two adenoviruses instead of using just one. By doing this, they hope the virus can’t mutate to outsmart the vaccine.
Here’s the vaccine’s timeline:
June: Phase I/II trials launched
Aug 11: Putin announced they conditionally approved the vaccine. Other countries do this too. The motive was political, however, as it’s now considered the “first registered vaccine” in the pandemic. Which, as you can imagine, is controversial.
Sept 4: Results from Phase I/II were published in the Lancet (a very well-respected journal). In short, among 76 people aged 18-60, the vaccine was safe with most adverse events being mild and no serious adverse events reported. The vaccine also yielded antibodies.
Oct 17: Phase III began. Participants were recruited in Belarus, UAE, Venezuela, and India.
Nov 11: Russia sparked significant controversy (again) because, after releasing partial Phase III data, they began offering the vaccine. The partial data was based on 20 cases of COVID19, where scientists estimated a vaccine efficacy of 92%.
Dec 14: Phase III trial reached 22,714 participants (17,032 in the vaccine group and 5,682 in the placebo). After two months, 78 cases of COVID19 popped up (16 in the vaccine group and 62 in the placebo group). This equates to an efficacy rate of 91.4%. Out of the 78 COVID19 cases, 20 cases were severe and all were in the placebo group. Results have not been peer-reviewed yet.
Dec 29: Belarus and Argentina approved for emergency use.
An interesting development: Sputnik just reached a deal with AstraZeneca. The motivation is to try and increase AstraZeneca’s efficacy by combining the two vaccines. They are both adnoviruses, so this is possible to do. However, it has just never been done before. It’s unprecedented. Nonetheless, they need to start from the beginning (Phase I). AstraZeneca just registered for the trial.
My opinion: Look, I know this is a Russian vaccine. And, yes, they chose a really poor vaccine name. Their urgency to be label their vaccine the “first vaccine approved” was cause for concern. And approving a vaccine, before Phase III is complete, is also cause for concern. But, after reading the science, I see no reason to doubt the results. The Lancet results are solid. And the Phase III results are on par with what we have seen with the other vaccines. We are anxiously waiting the peer-reviewed science, but we also are for AstraZeneca. Also, Russia is paying for their poor initial decisions, as there is significant vaccine hesitancy within the country. But this is a global pandemic with literally billions of people infected and millions of people dying. It’s important that we give all vaccines, especially those that are easy to store and distribute to reach the most vulnerable of populations, a fighting chance. Even if they do come from Russia.