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WORLD | 06-02-2021 08:24

Argentine labs in talks to produce ‘91.6% effective’ Sputnik vaccine

Government’s decision to go all-in on Russia's Sputnik V vaccine pays off, as analysis published in 'The Lancet' concludes jab is 91.6% effective.

President Alberto Fernández's government is backing efforts to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in Argentina and at least two local firms are in talks to manufacture it.

"We are in negotiations with two Argentine companies so that from there they can produce doses of the Sputnik V vaccine locally. But we still do not have the agreements signed to be able to announce more details,” said Kirill Dmitriev, the head of co-developer the Russian Direct Investment Fund, during a press briefing this week.

Dmitriev said that Argentina had the technicians and facilities “to be able to fully manufacture the vaccine,” adding that local scientists had the “necessary know-how for this type of production.”

Argentina's newly designated ambassador to Russia, Eduardo Zuain, confirmed earlier in the week that officials were looking to secure a deal with officials in Moscow and the Gamaleya laboratory that produces the vaccine.

The government will push for "a technology transfer process so that, eventually, the vaccine can be produced in Argentina," Zuain told the Télam state news agency this week.

The government originally anticipated that it would receive as many as five million doses of Sputnik V by the end of January, but so far it has only received just over 800,000. 

Many nations have experienced delays in the production and reception of Covid-19 vaccines, with reasons varying from cost constraints to poor organisation, red tape and even mistrust of vaccines.

91.6% effective

The news came fresh on the back of a new interim analysis of an advanced clinical trial that indicated that Sputnik V provided strong protection against Covid-19. The vaccine was well-tolerated and worked in the elderly as well, according to the peer-reviewed findings, which were published Tuesday in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. 

Overall, Sputnik V showed efficacy of 91.6 percent, validating claims by the developers last year, who also claim it works against new strains of the virus.

The findings buoy the vaccine’s credibility after it faced accusations of being rushed to market before critical scientific data was available. They are also a huge boon for President Alberto Fernández's government, which was an early adopter of it – a decision that initially sparked strong criticism from sectors of the opposition and in many media outlets.

“The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste,” Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading said in an accompanying comment in The Lancet. “But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19.”

Although the results aren’t final, the vaccine joins only a handful of others, including ones developed by Moderna Inc, AstraZeneca Plc and Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, in showing it works in an advanced clinical trial. 

Sputnik V differs from the others in that its two doses rely on different viral vectors, which offers it an advantage against new strains, said Dmitriev.

Transparency and scepticism

Sputnik V – named after the Soviet-era satellite – was approved in Russia months before results from its final-stage clinical trials were published, leading to scepticism from experts. But the new analysis of data from 20,000 participants in Phase III trials suggests that the two-dose vaccination offers more than 90 percent efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19. 

The preliminary findings show that the two-dose Sputnik V "has shown high efficacy" and was well tolerated for participants over 18 in final-stage clinical trials, said co-lead author Inna Dolzhikova of Russia's Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology.

The findings are based on an analysis of data from more than 20,000 participants, three-quarters of whom received the vaccine, with one-quarter given a placebo.

So-called "serious adverse events" – i.e. those requiring treatment in hospital – were "rare," with none associated with vaccination.

Four deaths were reported, none of which were related to the vaccine. Most who took the vaccine reported mild adverse events, including "flu-like symptoms, pain at the injection site and weakness or low energy."

"The trial results show a consistent strong protective effect across all participant age groups," concluded The Lancet.

The results suggest Sputnik V is among the top performing vaccines, along with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs that also reported more than 90 percent efficacy. 

Pre-empting the results of the phase III trials, Russia has already launched a mass inoculation campaign for citizens 18 and older.

Several countries around the world have already registered Sputnik V, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund which helped develop the vaccine, including Belarus, Venezuela, Bolivia and Algeria.

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