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India's Sputnik V decision a win for Russia's soft power diplomacy

By Aneesh Phadnis
April 20, 2021 11:38 IST
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The Russian vaccine has been registered in more than 55 countries and is gaining recognition in the virtual world -- being the only to have its own Facebook page, YouTube channel and a Twitter handle, reports Aneesh Phadnis.

IMAGE: A health worker prepares a dose of the Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus disease at the Tecnopolis Park, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photograph: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

Last August as the world was battling a surge in coronavirus cases, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the country has registered the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine -- Sputnik V.

At the time there were 25 vaccine candidates in the clinical evaluation stage globally. Oxford University had started the phase III trial of its vaccine, while Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine was still in phase I and II trials.

 

Putin’s announcement about the vaccine drew interest and scepticism in equal measure. Critics in Russia and abroad questioned the use of vaccines even before completion of a phase III trial. Some doubted the testing methods used in its development.

But Russia silenced its critics in February as Sputnik V demonstrated over 91.6 per cent efficacy and showed it can prevent serious illness after a study involving 20,000 persons in 25 hospitals.

Last Monday, India’s Subject Expert Committee cleared Sputnik V for emergency use against Covid-19, making it the third approved vaccine against Covid-19 in the country.

Developed by the Gamaleya National Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, Sputnik V is based on a human adenoviral vector-based platform. The center has previously developed vaccines against the Ebola fever which are in use in Russia and is conducting trials on vaccines against influenza and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

But Sputnik V has landed Russia -- which mostly focuses on the hard power of military might and oil and gas exports -- an unexpected victory in soft-power diplomacy.

The vaccine is gaining recognition both in the real and the virtual worlds. Sputnik V is the only Covid-19 vaccine to have its own Facebook page, YouTube channel and a Twitter handle. A report by Fortune called the vaccine Russia’s unlikely new social media star.

Sputnik V has been registered in more than 55 countries. Phase III clinical trials have been conducted in the United Arab Emirates, India, Venezuela and Belarus.

In Europe, the interest has been mixed. While countries including France and Germany have shown willingness to buy the vaccine, Russia’s neighbours like Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have expressed misgivings and officials there have dubbed it as a hybrid weapon to divide Europe.

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Aneesh Phadnis in New Delhi
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