After the EU’s vaccine distribution disaster, German lawmakers are now taking a closer look at Russia’s Sputnik V jab. If approved by EU regulators, Sputnik V could be the fourth vaccine available in the bloc after the BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
It’s easy to see why Germany could be tempted by the Sputnik V vaccine. The rollout of the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna jabs has been hampered by delivery delays and political blunders. And European regulators have remained wary of AstraZeneca’s vaccine – a scepticism that was solidified by a recent trial showing that the shot may not significantly reduce the risk of mild or moderate disease caused by the 501Y.V2 variant, also known as the South African strain.
Meanwhile, the Lancet reported last week that Sputnik V, which was developed at Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, was 91.6 per cent effective against symptomatic cases of Covid-19. That news has caused a flurry of activity in Germany. Health minister Jens Spahn said on Wednesday that talks were being held with Moscow to explore production capacities for the Russian jab in Germany. One day later, it was confirmed that Russian developers had reached out to the German company IDT Biologika to discuss jointly producing Sputnik V at a facility in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.
IDT Biologika has about 1,400 employees working at plants in Dessau-Rosslau and Magdeburg – both in Saxony-Anhalt – as well as in Rockville, Maryland. As the coronavirus began to spread last year the company launched its own effort to make a vaccine against the disease, supported with £100 million from the German government for clinical phase I trials. But its shot failed to prompt a sufficient immune response in humans. As a contract manufacturer though, the company is heavily involved in the global vaccine push. Since January, it has produced 8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Dessau-Rosslau.
‘There are no ideological reservations against Sputnik V. We welcome anything that can help in the fight against the coronavirus,’ a spokesman for Rainer Haseloff, the Saxony-Anhalt premier, told reporters. ‘If IDT Biologika wants to produce the Russian vaccine and it would be approved in the EU, we as a state government would of course do everything to help the company.’ German chancellor Angela Merkel has also stated that every vaccine would be welcomed if approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). At the same time, France and Spain have signalled their willingness to use the shot.
According to a statement by Russian officials, the application for approval was submitted two weeks ago. Thomas Mertens, head of the German vaccine commission, welcomed that step. ‘I would be very happy if we could expand our vaccine portfolio,’ he said, while emphasising that there was no chance Sputnik V could be used if it did not meet EU standards. The jab has already been administered in Russia for more than six months, but the approval procedure is different in the EU, Mertens stated.
Still, the possibility of another jab coming within reach has been warmly welcomed in Germany, where anger is continuing to grow over the slow pace of vaccinations.