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Russian jab shows 92% efficacy, scientists say

by Gemma Handy

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People in Antigua and Barbuda will soon have a choice between taking the AstraZeneca vaccine or Russia’s Sputnik V which is said to offer 92 percent protection against Covid-19.

Sputnik V is a step closer to becoming available to the local population after Pharmacy Council officials confirmed that they were prepared to recommend the jab.

Before the body gives it the official stamp of approval, it has requested a letter of authenticity from the Russian manufacturers confirming that the 1,000 doses currently on island are from their production. It has also asked that the vaccines’ inner leaflet be made available in English.

Government is now poised to order an additional 50,000 doses – enough for 25,000 people – on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, Cabinet announced yesterday.

When given the green light, Antigua and Barbuda will join around 60 other countries across the world – including Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil, India and Iran – to approve the jab for use.

Sputnik V has two main advantages that make it appealing to poorer nations: it is cheap and easy to store.

At US$10 a dose, it is beaten on price only by Astra-Zeneca which comes in at US$4 a dose.

It can also be stored at temperatures of between two and eight degrees Celsius, similar to a standard refrigerator.

Pharmacy Council president Michael Joseph said the body had scrutinised independently verified data on Sputnik V by esteemed medical journal, the Lancet.

In a letter to Health Minister Molwyn Joseph last week, he said the body was prepared to recommend its use in light of public hesitancy around the AstraZeneca vaccine – currently the only one available in the country – due to rare incidents linking it to blood clots.

He added that once the Pharmacy Council has received the two documents requested, it will surge ahead and “finalise the due diligence process”, paving the way for Sputnik V’s use in the twin isles.

The shot is yet to gain emergency-use listing from the World Health Organization (WHO). The international body’s technical experts are due to start the next round of their review in sync with the European Medicines Agency next month.

Inspections for good manufacturing practices will take place from May 10 to early June, the WHO told Reuters on Thursday.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas said yesterday that there had been “a lot of inquiries” locally about Sputnik V, named in tribute to Russia’s triumph in the space race.

“Some have indicated a preference for it as and when it becomes available for use,” Nicholas told reporters at a press briefing.

The Lancet said this week that trials into Sputnik V showed it offered consistently strong protection across all age groups.

The vaccine initially sparked controversy after being rolled out before the final trial data had been released. But scientists say its benefits have now been demonstrated.

It works by using a cold-type virus, engineered to be harmless, as a carrier to deliver a small fragment of the coronavirus to the body.

Safely exposing the body to a part of the virus’s genetic code in this way allows it to recognise the threat and learn to fight it off, without the risk of becoming ill.

After being vaccinated, the body starts to produce antibodies especially tailored to the coronavirus.

This means that the immune system is primed to fight coronavirus when exposed to it.

Sputnik V’s two doses are given 21 days apart.

Meanwhile, the Antigua and Barbuda government yesterday continued to urge residents 18 and older to take advantage of the national vaccination programme.

To date, more than 29,500 people have received an initial dose of the AstraZeneca shot. Government says 70 percent of the country’s population must be inoculated to achieve herd immunity.

Four vaccination centres – the polyclinics in Villa and Glanvilles, the Precision Centre in Piggotts, and the Multipurpose Centre in Perry Bay – are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.

A mobile vaccination unit will also once again be at the public market in St John’s this Saturday from 5am to 1pm.