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Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 Vaccine 90% Effective, Analysis Shows

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When it comes to Covid-19 vaccines, a lot of attention seems to have centered on the ones being made in the West. So it may come as a surprise that Russia is fifth on the list of vaccine makers with the most doses under contract through pre-purchase agreements, according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker. The shot — whimsically named Sputnik V and developed by the Gamaleya institute — is just behind GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Sanofi’s candidate in the rankings and ahead of the shots developed by Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. This is notable for a vaccine that has yet to be featured in any peer-reviewed scientific journal. How do we know we can trust it?

Russia hasn’t released late-stage phase III data on its vaccine; all we have to go on are press announcements, similar to the situation with the Chinese shot made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The assumption is that regional health authorities have approved the Russian vaccine based on good efficacy and safety data, but there is no way of independently verifying these things without actually seeing it ourselves. That said, what we do know about Sputnik V and its design should give us some degree of confidence.

What’s known: The Sputnik V has been tested in a phase III trial involving 22,714 subjects, with three interim analyses when the number of confirmed cases reached 20, 39 and 78, respectively. While the final number of cases is lower than that in the Moderna and Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine trials, those were larger and conducted in the U.S., where the infection rates were rising rapidly. Efficacy at each interim analysis in the Sputnik V trial was consistently at 90% or above, based on comments in press releases. There were also no cases of severe Covid-19 in vaccinated individuals, though definitions of disease severity are not clear.

As for its design, Sputnik V was developed using the kind of advanced vaccine technology employed in shots made by the AstraZeneca-Oxford University partnership and Johnson & Johnson. These two-dose vaccines use adenoviral vectors — viruses based on the cause of the common cold that are engineered to deliver the genetic material coding for the Sars-Cov-2’s key “spike” protein, which in turn prompts the immune system to mount a response to protect against further infections.

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