Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Sputnik V: Proven Vaccine, Political Ploy, or Both?

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In August 2020, while Europe was

on the cusp of a devastating second wave of Covid-19,

and the U.S. was struggling to find beds

for its sickest patients with the virus,

this was happening in Russia.

But the rest of the world wasn't so sure.

Russia has become the first country to

give regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine.

But there are myriad questions

and concerns already. A vaccine so quickly

and from a country notorious for propaganda and deception.

The issue is not about the science of the vaccine.

It's about the approach that was used

by the Russian government, in terms of approving

and starting to use the vaccine before the phase three

clinical trial data was in.

Starting to use the vaccine,

starting to try to export the vaccine

and launching this entire propaganda campaign

actually worked against the product.

After first facing scrutiny

on whether Russia's vaccines actually work,

now the question has become

whether they can meet worldwide demand.

Critics and observers

are now left wondering is the Kremlin playing vaccine

politics as part of a campaign to undercut Western powers

and their technology?

Or is this a case of solid science being tainted

by allegations of Russian hacking, poisonings

and interference in democratic elections.

Russia's scrambling

to bring Covid-19 under control.

Russia is battling a surge in Covid cases.

The virus came late to Russia,

but it is definitely here now.

Russia reported its first Covid-19 cases

in January in Siberia and Russia's far East.

By July, officials reported almost 840,000 cases.

And more than 30,000 excessive deaths.

Global health experts however,

have questioned the accuracy of Russia's data,

deeming the number of Covid related fatalities

too low given infection rates.

Russia acted very swiftly to impose restrictions.

It was one of the first countries to enact a total ban

on the entry of Chinese citizens.

And by late March, it had imposed a shutdown of its borders

and a series of lockdowns across the country.

Meanwhile, in Moscow,

the Gamaleya Research Institute

of Epidemiology and Microbiology named

after pioneering Russian vaccine researcher

Nikolay Gamaleya got to work.

They called the project Sputnik V.

Sputnik V is a reference to a very important date

in Soviet history, which was the launch

of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957

and that marked the start of the Space Race

between the Soviet Union and the United States.

In naming it after that, it's clear

that Russia was positioning itself as a player in a

geopolitical struggle.

The first artificial Earth satellite,

a world-stirring event.

By May, the Gamaleya Institute had already

started testing their vaccine on the center's director

as well as key scientific staff.

A move which seemed to place Russia ahead

of other countries in the vaccine race.

The institute supplied vaccines

for use against the Ebola outbreak

in Guinea in 2017 to 2018.

The Covid-19 vaccine

that they developed was based on technology

they had earlier applied in an experimental inoculation

against the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome

or MERS.

And that's what allowed Russia to go ahead

relatively quickly in developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

But on August 11th,

when President Putin announced

that Sputnik had been registered

as the world's first Covid-19 vaccine,

it hadn't started vital phase three trials,

prompting worry among the scientific community

and mockery from the Trump administration.

I was extraordinarily surprised

to see that announcement in August.

I'm not surprised that they were working on it,

not surprised they started the clinical trials,

but very surprised and a little bit disturbed

to see them starting to use it before they had the data.

For Putin it was clearly very important

to be first in the world

to release and approve a vaccine.

And so the entire state propaganda apparatus

worked overtime

to present this as a huge victory for Russian science,

for the Russian pharma industry and basically as proof

of Russia's superiority in areas where the country

has long been written off.

Isn't it premature for Russia to

have approved this vaccine before phase three trials

are substantially underway?

No, not at all.

First we were criticized but then we saw that

Britain announced that they may follow suit.

U.S. FDA said that they may want

to register before phase three.

The suspicion that this is a propaganda tool rather

than actually a way to fight Covid-19 was obviously there

and it was expectable that reaction.

The Putin government has done a lot of ugly things

to earn the suspicion and distrust of especially

Western nations.

So obviously there was a certain handicap to overcome

and that could not be done with premature fanfare.

It could only be counteracted with scientific proof

and scientific proof was eventually delivered.

On February 2nd,

in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet,

vaccine experts, professors, Polly Roy and Ian Jones

reported that Sputnik V appeared safe

with an efficacy rate of 91.6%.

This was really a chance for Russia to dispel a lot

of the skepticism surrounding the vaccine and you know

whether it was actually good at combating Covid-19.

I think it's fair to say that demand increased as a result

of that breakthrough.

In Europe, there has definitely been a change of sentiment.

There are shortages of the vaccine in Europe.

So, you know, now the EU is looking at a request to

approve the use of Sputnik V.

In addition to that several European countries, France

Germany, Spain and Italy may also manufacture it.

So it's definitely fair to say

that there was a change of heart.

Sputnik is very similar to both the AstraZeneca vaccine

and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in that it's

an adenovirus vectored vaccine.

And what that means is that they're using a common cold

virus to deliver a little bit

of the Covid virus

to your own cells and sort of tricks your cells

into making just a little bit of the Covid virus.

And with that little bit, which is the spike protein

your body's able to mount an immune response

so you develop T-cells, you develop antibodies

that all respond to Covid-19

if you should get infected in the future.

Sputnik V is also double vectored, which means

that it uses a slightly different version

of the vaccine in the second dose.

So protection against Covid-19 could last longer.

I don't necessarily think that in terms

of the vaccine itself and how it works in the body

it exhibits any advantages over the mRNA system.

Now vaccines like Sputnik, like AstraZeneca

and like the Johnson and Johnson vaccine

that are all adenovirus vector vaccines

are much more stable in warmer temperatures.

And so that makes this cold-chain much easier.

That means the storage and the distribution is much easier.

And so all of that is a real positive strength.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson shots

have in rare cases, been connected to blood clots.

Russian officials claim that Sputnik though developed

in the same way hasn't caused similar side effects.

All of this combined

with a relatively low production cost of $10 a dose,

makes Sputnik V a viable option

for developing countries that are struggling

to either obtain or distribute inoculations.

But there are questions about how much politics

will impact the vaccine's distribution.

We do not do politics.

And obviously vaccine is our effort to save people

and it should not be politicized.

Russia clearly has been using the vaccine,

Sputnik V, as a way to bolster its global ambitions.

In Latin America for example,

Argentina has already had deliveries

of two and a half million doses.

It's ordered a total of 20 million.

Mexico is another big buyer they've asked

for 24 million doses.

Russia hasn't asked any countries to pay a premium.

However, it's not offering any discounts

for poorer countries.

So in Latin America or Africa

the price is the same as anywhere else

and that's approximately $10 a shot.

and we know that some Western manufacturers

are providing discounts for developing countries.

However, Russia's pharma industry,

wasn't prepared for the level of demand for Sputnik V.

The RDIF, Russia's sovereign wealth fund, who

were financing the vaccine had to strike production deals

around the world to support the global supply

for Sputnik V abroad.

There are definitely still problems in ramping

up production.

Russia's total production of Sputnik V

since the pandemic started is less than the number

of vaccine shots administered every two weeks

to the U.S. population.

It is now promising

to produce much larger quantities.

Particularly in India it has a very ambitious target

of 700 million two dose sets,

which it is hoping to get manufactured

outside Russia this year.

Closer to home,

there's been a lack of enthusiasm for the vaccine.

With a recent poll revealing that 62%

of respondents wouldn't take Sputnik V.

Despite ordering mass inoculations in January,

Putin himself didn't get vaccinated until seven months

after the August announcement.

The Kremlin said he was focusing on other inoculations.

It was not made public

which of the Russian vaccines he received.

In a way that the traditional Russian mistrust

of authority has made it easier

for the government

because the demand for the vaccine is not as high

as it would have been elsewhere.

In Russia, you can get it if you want it,

but many just don't want to

and perhaps even Putin's own slowness

in getting vaccinated is indicative of, you know,

how cautious Russians are about this whole thing.

Russia has been hit especially hard

by the pandemic with at least 250,000 epidemic-linked deaths

Russian officials said.

But the country could now

hold a powerful weapon in the fight against the virus.

I think the Sputnik vaccine will be a very powerful tool.

I think we still have a few questions

that need to be answered.

I still think we want to see the final data

at the end of May when the phase three trial is due to end

and all of the safety data.

So yes, a few small bits of data that I would like to see

but I think the Sputnik vaccine will absolutely

be a very powerful tool in the global vaccine campaign

as well as many other vaccines that are both being

developed right now, or being used in other countries.

We just need to combine that sort of manufacturing

and distribution with that solid clinical evaluation.

And I think that we are doing that.

It's made a huge difference to Russia's image.

Definitely a very good tool of soft diplomacy,

which has shown that Russia has the capacity to play

an important role in combating this pandemic.

The Description of Sputnik V: Proven Vaccine, Political Ploy, or Both?