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Due to the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the emergency clearance of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by the World Health Organization (WHO) will suffer significant delays. Without this formal step, Sputnik V will not be able to be used by COVAX, the initiative to distribute vaccines in the poorest countries that cannot afford the purchase of the doses. The postponement of the authorization is one of the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the pandemic, which continues to affect millions of people around the world.
Mariângela Simão, who works in the general direction of the WHO, has said that under current conditions it is not possible to reach and fully cooperate with Russia to authorize Sputnik V: «We should have carried out some inspections in Russia on 7 March, but we had to postpone. The evaluation [sul vaccino] and inspections are conditioned by the current situation ”.
The WHO group of inspectors is encountering numerous difficulties both in booking flights to reach Russia, and in booking hotels and other services. The harsh economic sanctions imposed by the West include the closure of airspace for Russian civil flights, while the two largest credit card transaction managers – Visa and Mastercard – have suspended their operations in Russia, making purchases from the country difficult. foreign goods and services.
WHO trusts reorganize the trips needed for inspections in the coming weeks, even if there are no definite dates at the moment due to the period of great uncertainty linked to the invasion of Ukraine. Inspectors have the task of analyzing the documentation produced in the development and testing of the vaccine, as well as checking the places where the doses are physically produced before being exported abroad.
Sputnik V was one of the first vaccines to be used on the population, arousing some criticism outside Russia for the choice to use it even before all the experimental phases were completed. Its development took place at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, with the collaboration of the Russian Defense Ministry and the Russia Direct Investment Fund, a government-controlled fund that subsidizes medical research.
The vaccine is based on adenoviruses, which are essentially harmless to humans, such as vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Adenoviruses are modified to carry the genetic material needed to produce the coronavirus spike protein into cells, which is used by the latter to gain access to cells and multiply. Thanks to the vaccine, the cells only produce parts of the spike protein, which the immune system then learns to recognize in order to intervene more quickly and more effectively in the event of a subsequent infection due to the actual coronavirus.
Unlike the vaccines from AstraZeneca and J&J, which each employ one adenovirus, Sputnik V uses two: rAd26 when the first dose is received and rAd5 when the second is given. According to those who developed the vaccine, this difference allows for a better immune response, because our immune system learns to deal with two different viruses, developing greater capabilities.
In its use on the population, Sputnik V has proved highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths due to severe cases of COVID-19, while it has been found to be around 50 percent effective in preventing the appearance of symptoms in the event of infection.
Sputnik V is currently used in more than 70 countries around the world, but not in the European Union (with some rare exceptions) as it is not yet authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). For this reason, people vaccinated with Sputnik V in recent months have struggled to travel to Europe or the United States, another country that has not authorized the vaccine, because their vaccination is not recognized. Sputnik V is also not authorized in Ukraine.
However, the most awaited authorization was that of the WHO, which is important in order to unblock the use of the vaccine in initiatives for the fair distribution of vaccines in the poorest countries. The delays due to the war started by Russia will concern the initiative in particular COVAX supported by the United Nations. The agreements already provide for the use of Sputnik V, but without authorization, the vaccines cannot be distributed. In general, COVAX has accumulated great delays in managing the deliveries of vaccines supplied by other manufacturers, or donated by richer countries. The organization hopes to increase deliveries in the first half of this year.