Imagine you are sitting in the port of Tangier in Morocco in tiny coffeehouse with an unforgettable local flavor and watching TV interview with head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stating in a calm voice that 60% of the population of the “golden billion” have already been vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine, while in poor countries, where about 2.5 billion people live, no single vaccine against this virus appeared.
14 km from you is a land of prosperity and welfare called the European Union, which gets supplies of seven vaccines, mainly the German and American BioNTech/Pfizer, the American Moderna, the British and Swedish Oxford/AstraZeneca and the German CureVac. But you are patiently waiting for your coffee on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar – in North Africa. You are only 14 km away from the EU, however, in fact, we are talking about the border between the First World and the hopelessly backward periphery.
T. Ghebreyesus informs you from TV screens with pleasure that 92 low- and middle-income countries will receive the vaccine through the global Covax initiative, which is being promoted by WHO, the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the CEPI Epidemic Preparedness Center. Well, Morocco is one of these countries. At this moment, a beautiful Berber woman in an indigenous garb brings your coffee and sweets, your spirits lift and you are ready to relax. However, this will happen only if sufficient funds are collected, as T. Ghebreyesus continues looking straightly into your eyes. Quite a hopeful statement, isn’t it? You look at the Berber woman with hope, trying to dissolve your worries in her breathtaking beauty, but she only hurries away.
You switch TV channels nervously and – lo and behold! – Morocco’s Minister of Health announces triumphantly that the government has finally purchased the British and Swedish Oxford/AstraZeneca and the Chinese SinoPharm vaccines. The bad news is that most of the 66 million doses purchased are from China. At the same time, clinical trials data on the drug, explicitly published by the Chinese pharmaceutical concern, indicate that its effectiveness is much lower than that of Western competitors. The worse news is that the government is considering purchasing the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The terrible thing is that while Russia is inoculating its citizens with this vaccine and trying to sell it to all continents, the Russian scientists have not yet completed the third phase of clinical trials. And, generally, there is no guarantee that the final results of the third phase of testing will be successful.
Meanwhile… Spain (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, as well as Great Britain) are actively advocating for the introduction of the so-called vaccine passports – some international certificates of vaccination in the European Union. The main motivation of these countries is not to “lock themselves inside the fortress”, but to open up as much as possible and facilitate the movement of business contacts and tourist flows. However, you are still preoccupied by the idea that soon, in order to travel from Tangier to Spanish Malaga, you will need a vaccination passport.
At the same time, it is possible that your government will be able to take care of you and make the coveted vaccination, but… using the Chinese SinoPharm or the Russian Sputnik V, while Spain (or another required EU member state, as well as GB) may not recognize such vaccination as effective and, accordingly, applicable. Therefore you may be denied in entry.
Perhaps the Moroccan government would be happy to purchase vaccines having good, proven reputations in terms of scientific researches, but the problem is that huge volumes of such drugs have already been sold out for a year in advance by the First World. The rest of the vaccines that are in less demand on the world market are engaged in fierce, albeit covert, competition.
Amid the raging SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, leaders welcome any vaccines once they receive approval from national regulators. As the leaders of the countries assure, the main criterion for the use of a vaccine should be its scientifically proven effectiveness only. They unanimously denies competition in the vaccine market, arguing that they need to join forces in the face of coronavirus. But, in fact, the competition exists. Medical research centers, pharmaceutical companies and governments of some states are surreptitiously conducting information campaigns aimed at discrediting competing vaccines.
Moscow and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for Sputnik V promotion, are the most active in this field. Their success is not impressive so far – the spread of the Russian vaccine correlates with the existing area of Kremlin’s geopolitical influence. Initially, Sputnik V wriggled into the former Soviet republics that remained close to Moscow (Belarus and Kazakhstan) and the occupied regions of Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass). Later deliveries to the Kremlin-friendly countries – Serbia, Algeria, Iran, Myanmar, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela and Paraguay were organised. Moreover, Russia is conducting a powerful information campaign in Latin America to discredit vaccines originating from the Western states and to popularize its drug.
Sputnik V will be produced in India, China, Brazil, South Korea, Hungary and Kazakhstan. Moscow also started negotiations on the possible production of its vaccine with Tel Aviv (though Israel uses Pfizer for civilians and Moderna for the military). However, when Tel Aviv sent a request to Moscow to provide reports and all data about the third stage of Sputnik V clinical trials, then they received only silence as a response.
The Russian Federation itself critically lacks of production capacity to produce the vaccines, even in the volumes required to vaccinate the entire population of the country. For this reason, Russia has purchased large quantities of Western vaccines. Moreover, the use of these drugs is organised according to social criteria rather than according to the logistic ones (place of particular vaccine delivery). Thus, the heads of governmental agencies and senior officials are vaccinated with those vaccines produced in the West. Well, the ordinary population is offered only Sputnik V – such is the vaccination on the basis of social class!
Although the Russian Federation is unable to provide its own vaccine for all 146.7 million people, Moscow attempts to sell its vaccine to other countries! Why? The answer is very simple – the Kremlin hopes that the Russia’s geopolitical influence will grow together with the expanding distribution of Sputnik V.
For example, the Russian Federation expects to supply its vaccine to the EU. On January 29, the Russian Direct Investment Fund filed an official application with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for Sputnik V registration in the EU and began the submission of information to the EMA through a rolling review procedure. What kind of information will be submitted is a mystery, since, according to the experts, the third stage of clinical trials of Sputnik V has not yet been completed. It is going on in real time right now, not during experiments on volunteers in equipped infectious disease hospitals, but in all of the Russian Federation, in the occupied Crimea and Donbass, as well as in Belarus.
Appearingly, Russia will be unable to confirm the high quality, efficacy and safety of Sputnik V using an independent scientific investigation. At the same time, as director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev declared, the very fact that the Russian Federation has such a vaccine means overcoming the state of scientific collapse that occurred in the USSR in the end of the Cold War. As envisioned by Moscow, the triumphant march of the Russian vaccine across the planet should let the whole world know that the Russian Federation has the most advanced technologies. In addition, the extensive use of Sputnik V is intended to destroy the conventional vision of Russia as a country, which is a primitive and dangerous “petrol station with atomic weapons.”
Naturally, no one in Europe will publicly reject the Russian vaccine for geopolitical reasons. Although the governments of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have already given up on Sputnik V, they did not mention that Russia was an aggressor for them throughout the 20th century, and today it occupies their allies – Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. It was enough for them to declare the lack of confirmation of the effectiveness and safety of the Russian vaccine.
Generally, Sputnik V is not popular anywhere, just sometimes the harsh reality wins. For example, in Serbia, the citizens are pro forma offered to choose one of three vaccines – Pfizer, Sputnik V or SinoPharm. However, no matter how many times Pfizer is chosen, there is usually only a Chinese or Russian vaccine available.
Well then, you are sitting in a cafe in Tangier. You’ve watched many different COVID-19 programs and figured out a few things. You want to see again the gorgeous Berber woman and, since you have already drunk and eaten everything, you order the signature Moroccan tea and pies with nuts, sesame and fennel seeds. Okay, you say to yourself, now I should decisively refuse to get Sputnik V or SinoPharm shot, and by all means wait for the availability of Oxford/AstraZeneca purchased for Morocco. However, some disturbing things remains.
First of all, TV experts express deep confidence that all currently known SARS-CoV-2 vaccines have certain side effects, however, the backstabbing leaders of pharmaceutical companies are hiding this information. Secondly, experts say that the coronavirus mutates and migrates, and its vaccine-resistant strains will develop all the time. In addition, being vaccinated in the midst of an epidemic is ineffective, and perhaps even harmful, you should wait for its decline. Thirdly, the magnitude of the task to vaccinate 7.7 billion people is enormous and unprecedented. Experts assure that not all countries will be able to achieve full immunization of the people even at the end of 2023, but today neither any government nor any high official admits this.
You are sad and confused by all this information. In fact, you even do not know what to wish for and what to avoid. And then a lovely Berber brings you tea with sweets. You look at her face and think that love is undoubtedly much more important than epidemics, vaccinations and hidden competition among various (sometimes very dubious) vaccines. Only lovers left alive.