Kremlin Spin Doctors are Leading Russia’s Vaccine Development

Kremlin Spin Doctors are Leading Russia’s Vaccine Development

With Sputnik V, the country is conflating good headlines with good health.

You’ve got a vaccine against COVID-19 that’s 90 percent effective? Well, Russia does too. So declared an official from Russia’s health ministry just hours after Pfizer released results of its Phase 3 study on Monday. Russia was also the first country to announce that it was approving a vaccine, called Sputnik V, which got the green light from regulators in August. (Some of Russia’s political elite had such confidence in Sputnik V that they tested it on themselves as early as April, just as the pandemic was slamming into their country. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughter even got a shot.) In October, the country’s speedy scientists won approval for a second vaccine.

Measured by their public health effort, there is little to show for Russia’s vaccine efforts. Putin’s daughter appears healthy, as far as we know, but Russia’ political elite has been hit hard by the virus. Prime minister Mikhail Mishustin contracted the virus this spring. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov did too, as did the ministers of culture and energy. Nineteen provincial governors also tested positive.

Moreover, the Russian Duma appears to have been the site of at least one super-spreader event. According to the Duma speaker, 20 percent of Duma deputies have fallen ill with COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic. And as of late October, he said, a staggering 38 Duma members—8 percent of the entire chamber—were hospitalized. You’d have been far safer attending Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination party than a hearing in Russia’s legislature. The one upside is that, presuming the Duma has been hit by a fair number of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, it could plausibly be the world’s only such body to have reached herd immunity.