Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has been getting a lot of traction globally — over 30 countries and territories now have given emergency approval to use the vaccine.
“I think the bottom line is that countries are putting aside ideology, and looking for cost-effective, and effective vaccines.”— Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Interest in the vaccine seems to fall under a common narrative. Governments around the world are under pressure to secure COVID-19 vaccines and inoculate their population. But there are only limited doses available, and most of them, produced by Western companies, are already purchased in advance by a number of high-income countries. So low- and middle-income countries are turning to Russian and Chinese vaccines.
This has not gone unnoticed. At the G-7 last week, French President Emmanuel Macron urged the United States and European governments to allocate 3% to 5% of their vaccine supplies to Africa to maintain Western influence.
Here is an interactive map of countries that have approved the Sputnik V vaccine:
Mapping the Sputnik V vaccine approvals globally shows that only five countries in Africa have so far given the vaccine emergency approval, and only three countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
There are more countries in Asia and Latin America that have approved the vaccine for emergency use.
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Devex that apart from the challenge of accessing COVID-19 vaccines made by Western countries, Russia has had close relationships with some Latin American countries for decades, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Even known U.S. allies, such as Paraguay and Colombia, have also approved the vaccine.
“I think the bottom line is that countries are putting aside ideology, and looking for cost-effective, and effective vaccines where they can get them. And this one will certainly, I think, help Russia's diplomatic presence in the region, which has been a goal of the Putin government for the last two decades,” she said.
Even countries that have the means to purchase vaccines are just unable to, she said.
“Countries are just scrambling, each one on its own, to access vaccines in sufficient quantities for their own populations. And they're going wherever they can to find the vaccine, because the economic devastation of the pandemic has been enormous. And everyone knows that there's no real chance for economic recovery until the pandemic is brought under control,” she added.
But the fact that the majority of countries that have given approval to Russia's Sputnik V vaccine — even outside Latin America — are lower-middle-income or upper-middle-income countries is a manifestation of gaps in global health policies for middle-income countries, said Marcela Vieira, researcher and project coordinator of the Knowledge Network for Innovation and Access to Medicines, a project of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
“MICs [middle-income countries] are usually excluded from global agreements involving donations or voluntary agreements by multinational pharmaceutical companies,” she told Devex over email.
“In the case of COVID19 vaccines, we are seeing that US/European vaccines are being bought mostly by the richest countries and to some extent going to COVAX, but MICs that want to do bilateral purchasing agreements have to find other options,” she added.
Only one low-income country, Guinea, has approved the Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use to date. The West African nation rolled it out in a vaccination pilot in December.
Thousands of Sputnik V vaccine doses are known to have been shipped to countries to date. The latest one includes 200,000 doses to Mexico, which arrived in the country on Tuesday.
Devex has repeatedly reached out to the Russian Direct Investment Fund for information on how many doses of the vaccine have been secured in bilateral supply deals, as well as doses shipped to countries, but has yet to receive a response as of this writing.