Russia turns to China to make Sputnik shots to meet demand

AP — Russia is turning to multiple Chinese firms to manufacture the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in an effort to speed up production as demand soars for its shot.

Russia has announced three deals totalling 260 million doses with Chinese vaccine companies in recent weeks. It’s a decision that could mean quicker access to a shot for countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa that have ordered Russia’s vaccine, as the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) focus mainly on domestic vaccination needs.

Earlier criticism about Russia’s vaccine have been largely quieted by data published in the British medical journal The Lancet that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91 per cent.

Yet, experts have questioned whether Russia can fulfil its pledge to countries across the world. While pledging hundreds of millions of doses, it has only delivered a fraction.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said demand for Sputnik V significantly exceeds Russia’s domestic production capacity.

A medical worker prepares a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine as people queue to get a shot of the vaccine in a mobile vaccination centre in Simferopol, Crimea. PHOTO: AP

To boost production, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolled Sputnik V, has signed agreements with multiple drug makers in other countries, such as India, South Korea, Brazil, Serbia, Turkey, Italy and others. There are few indications, however, that manufacturers abroad, except for those in Belarus and Kazakhstan, have made any large amounts of the vaccine so far.

Airfinity, a London-based science analytics company, estimates Russia agreed to supply some 630 million doses of Sputnik V to over 100 countries, with only 11.5 million doses exported so far.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) declined to disclose how many doses are going to other countries. Through April 27, less than 27 million two-dose sets of Sputnik V have been reportedly produced in Russia.

The RDIF, which has been in charge of international cooperation for Sputnik V, said in April it would produce 100 million doses in collaboration with Hualan Biological Bacterin Inc, in addition to an earlier deal announced in March for 60 million doses with Shenzhen Yuanxin Gene-tech Co.

The two deals are in addition to a deal announced last November with Tibet Rhodiola Pharmaceutical Holding Co, which had paid USD9 million to manufacture and sell the Sputnik V vaccine in China.