TAIPAI, Taiwan (AP) – Russia is turning to a number of Chinese companies to produce the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in a bid to speed up production when demand jumps for its shot.
In recent weeks, Russia has announced three deals worth a total of 260 million doses with Chinese vaccine companies. This decision could mean faster access to a shot for Latin American, Middle Eastern and African countries that have ordered the Russian vaccine, as the United States and the European Union focus mainly on domestic vaccination needs.
Earlier criticism of the Russian vaccine was largely reassured by data published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which showed that large-scale tests were safe, with an efficiency of 91
Still, experts questioned whether Russia can fulfill its promise to countries around the world. While promising hundreds of millions of doses, he delivered only a small portion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said demand for Sputnik V far exceeded Russia’s domestic production capacity.
To boost production, the Russian direct investment fund, which finances Sputnik V, has signed agreements with a number of drug manufacturers in other countries, such as India, South Korea, Brazil, Serbia, Turkey, Italy and others. However, there are few indications that manufacturers abroad, with the exception of those in Belarus and Kazakhstan, have made large quantities of the vaccine so far.
Airfinity, a London-based research firm, estimates that Russia has agreed to ship about 630 million doses of Sputnik V to more than 100 countries, with only 11.5 million doses exported so far.
The RDIF declined to say how many doses went to other countries. By April 27, less than 27 million two-dose Sputnik V kits had been produced in Russia.
Russia’s direct investment fund, which was responsible for international cooperation for Sputnik V, said in April that it would produce 100 million doses in cooperation with Hualan Biological Bacterin Inc., in addition to an earlier deal announced in March for 60 million doses of Shenzhen Yuanxin Gene Tech Co.
The two deals are in addition to a deal announced last November with Tibet’s Rhodiola Pharmaceutical Holding Co., which paid $ 9 million to produce and sell the Sputnik V vaccine in China. In April, RDIF said the terms of the deal were for 100 million doses with a Tibet-owned subsidiary, Rodiola.
“Russia is very ambitious and unlikely to achieve its full goals,” said Rasmus Beh Hansen, founder and CEO of Airfinity. Working with China to create Sputnik V could be a win-win situation for both Russia and China, he added.
In recent years, Chinese vaccine companies have shifted from the main production of products for domestic use to supplies to the world market, with individual companies receiving prior WHO approval for specific vaccines – seen as a seal of quality. With the pandemic, Chinese vaccine companies have exported hundreds of millions of doses abroad.
Chinese vaccine manufacturers are rapidly expanding their capacity and say they can meet China’s domestic needs by the end of the year.
“This is a recognition of Chinese vaccine manufacturers that can produce in bulk,” said Helen Chen, head of pharmaceutical company LEK Consulting, a strategy consulting firm in Shanghai.
However, none of the three Chinese companies has yet started production of Sputnik V.
Tibet Rhodiola began construction of a factory in Shanghai late last year and expects production to begin in September, the company said at an annual investor meeting last month. Tibetan President Rhodiola Chen Dalin also said that after the successful transfer of technology, they will start with an order of 80 million doses to sell them back to Russia. An employee of the company refused to transfer a request for a phone call to the company’s media department for comment.
The timetable for the latest deals is also unclear. Hualan Bio was among the 10 largest vaccine manufacturers in China in 2019. Phone calls to Hualan Bio went unanswered.
A Shenzhen Yuanxing spokesman declined to say when the company would begin production, but said their order would not be sold in China. RDIF said production would begin this month.
Despite the delays, Russian vaccination diplomacy has made a profit.
From the outset, Russia, the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, aims to distribute it worldwide. Within weeks of Sputnik V’s regulatory approval, RDIF began actively marketing it abroad, announcing a number of deals to deliver the shot to other countries. So far, it has won the battle for public relations, analysts say in a new report examining Russian and Chinese diplomacy on vaccines from the Economist Intelligence Unit.
“Russia has managed to build stronger diplomatic ties in areas where it has failed,” said Imogen Page-Jarrett, an analyst at EIU. “They have that opportunity as the United States, the European Union and India focus on the internal market and the rest of the world cries out for vaccines.”