• Anika Jusuf

Russian COVID-19 Vaccines: Sputnik V & Sputnik Light

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

From: Unsplash

Russian scientists and researchers have been developing four forms of the COVID-19 vaccine in order to fight the ongoing pandemic. Two of these vaccines are sparking increasing public interest: Sputnik V and Sputnik Light. The two vaccines are named after Soviet Union’s satellite ‘Sputnik’, the first manmade satellite that was able to make an orbit in the 1950s. Unlike the other two vaccines that Russia has developed, Sputnik V has been widely shared and shipped amongst countries. Made by the Gamelaya research institute in Russia, Sputnik V is said to provide a 97.6% efficacy rate with its two doses. Its new developing sibling, Sputnik Light on the other hand falls behind with a 79.4% efficacy rate, but only requires one shot.

How do these vaccines work?

The Sputnik V vaccine prepares the body to defend itself against infection. The vaccine introduces two viruses belonging to the adenovirus family (Ad26 and Ad5) that have been modified to contain the SARS-Cov-2 spike protein. The body’s immune system then will attack the spike by producing the antibodies and T cells against the proteins. The first dose of the vaccine contains the Ad26 virus, while the second contains the Ad5, which is why the two doses are necessary. Once the two are injected and the body produces the natural defenses, the body will be prepared to attack if one is exposed to Sars-Cov-2. This increases and helps protection of the body.

Sputnik Light on the other hand only relies on one injection. Similar to the first dose of the Sputnik V, the injection contains the adenovirus Ad26 with the SARS-Cov-2 spike protein. They also aim to build the immune system and to help protect individuals by helping them develop antibodies and T cells that are capable of fighting the Sars-CoV-2 virus if one is infected. Despite the lower efficacy rate for the Sputnik Light, the vaccine is found to be cheaper to produce and with its one-shot requirement it is said that it allows the increase of partial herd immunity. Additionally, research has shown that receiving the single dose may improve efficacy of future doses along with its strong value of initial vaccination and revaccination. Sputnik Light may be beneficial for populous countries that require fast vaccinations in order to maintain herd immunity and decrease cases.

Currently, only certain countries have implemented the Sputnik vaccines. Sputnik Light has only been approved within Russia and is currently facing their Phase III testing for approval. On the other hand, Sputnik V has already been approved and been distributed within Russia, Asia, South America, etc. Sputnik V’s journey within Europe though is found to be much more complex. Many governments are concerned with the vaccine and what it means politically for Russia. The vaccine for many is being seen as a potential soft power. This addresses the concerns of Russia being able to co-opt and attract others, shaping their preferences through appeal and attraction. This has created a sense of weariness about the vaccine. Only a handful of countries in Europe have accepted the Russian vaccine and have given it to the public, Hungary being the first in early 2021.

Political tensions surrounding the vaccine are still ongoing. Recently, the prime minister of Slovakia received extreme backlash for importing over 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine without consulting coalition partners, leading to him resigning from his position. Other countries in Europe though have also shown interest in the Russian vaccine. Germany’s vice-chancellor Angela Merkel has already hinted towards consideration of the vaccine. Italy, Greece, France have also expressed interest in the vaccine. Although they ideally aim to implement the vaccine once the European Union approves of it, they are also considering making separate deals if it is absolutely necessary.

What is stopping the EU from accepting the Russian vaccine?

For the EU to be able to accept and approve of the Sputnik vaccines they need to be approved by the EMA (European Medicines Agency). EMA has already declared that they are conducting a rolling review on the Sputnik vaccine in early March. A rolling review means that the human medicines committee is constantly studying and observing the different research that is being conducted on the vaccine. Once the vaccine is deemed safe the EMA will provide approval for the vaccine. This approval of the vaccine will only be known earliest during the following months of May and June. The Sputnik V is still being constantly assessed to see whether it is safe for use or not. Recently though there have been reports of data discrepancies regarding the trial tests of the vaccine. This brings into question whether the vaccine is reliable or not and whether EMA will approve of it.

Speaking Plainly:

-Russian researchers have developed several vaccines, two of the most influential ones are the Sputnik V and Sputnik Light vaccines. They respectively have 97.6% and 79.4% efficacy.

-Sputnik V consists of two doses releasing the Ad26 adenovirus and the Ad5. Sputnik Light only relies on one dose containing the Ad5.

-The Sputnik V has led to concerns about it being used as a tool for soft power.

-Although it has been accepted in countries around the world, EMA has not given approval for the vaccine to be used widely in Europe.