The vaccination campaign against Covid-19 is underway across the world, with more than 104 million doses having been administered across 66 countries, according to recent data. The vaccinations currently in use are produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca (in collaboration with the University of Oxford). While these vaccine variations were the first ones to be authorized for mass rollout by the World Health Organization, it seems that they will soon be joined by Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and possibly China’s two front-runner vaccines - Sinovac and Sinopharm.
What do we know about these vaccines, and how do they compare to the Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines?
Sputnik V proves 92% effective in a trial
The Russian vaccine was initially met with some controversy because it was rolled out before the completion of the final trial. The trial results recently published in the medical journal The Lancet deemed the vaccine safe and 92% effective.
In a comment published alongside the paper, Professor Ian Jones and Polly Roy stated, "The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for unseemly haste, corner-cutting, and an absence of transparency. But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19".
The vaccine works in a similar way to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab developed in the UK. It exposes the body to the virus’s genetic code, which helps the immune system recognize the virus as a threat and fight it, all without the risk of becoming ill. In other words, after the vaccination, the body starts producing antibodies tailored to fight the novel coronavirus.
The main difference between the Sputnik V vaccine and the AstraZeneca jab is that the former uses a slightly different formula of the vaccine in the first and second vaccination dose. This is believed to provide longer-lasting protection and helps boost the immune system more than using the same version twice.
There were no severe reactions and deaths linked to the Russian vaccine during the trial. The only side effects recorded were mild - a sore arm, fatigue, and fever.
The study didn’t address the shot's effectiveness against the new variants of the coronavirus. However, Russian officials have stated they are continuously testing Sputnik V against new variants, and they expect the shot to be just as potent against the new variants of the virus.
In early January, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the organization that bankrolled the jab, said that over 1 million Russians have already been vaccinated. Outside Russia, Sputnik V has received Authorization in over a dozen countries, including Belarus, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Iran, and the UAE.
What do we know about the Sinovac and Sinopharm Vaccines?
Meanwhile, China is making great strides to become a leading vaccination provider, too. The two prominent vaccines from China are made by two companies: Sinovac and Sinopharm. The former is a private company, and the government funds the latter. Vaccines from both companies have been granted conditional approval in China.
Both companies are developing inactivated vaccines that work in a similar way to Sputnik V. This is a more traditional method of vaccination, compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which use a novel approach, mRNA. The main advantage of this tried and true form of vaccination is that it can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius, while Moderna's vaccine needs to be stored at -20°C and Pfizer's vaccine requires an even lower temperature — -70°C.
This means that the Chinese and the Russian vaccines could be a lot more useful in developing countries, as they are more affordable, easy-to-transport, and don’t require advanced storage facilities.
What about their efficacy? At this point in time, it’s hard to determine. One Chinese study published in The Lancet only has information from the first and the second phase trials of Sinovac. Interim data from late-stage trials in Turkey and Indonesia showed that the vaccine was 91.25% and 65.3% effective respectively. Researchers in Brazil initially said it was 78% effective in their clinical trials, but in January of 2021, they revised that figure and stated that the vaccine was 50.4% effective after including more data in their calculations.
As for Sinopharm, phase three trial results from late December showed that it was 79% effective. However, the United Arab Emirates, which approved the Sinopharm vaccine earlier this month, said that the vaccine was 86% effective, according to the interim results of their phase three trial.
While there is still more information to be gathered, one thing is clear: if the world wants to take the global pandemic under control, we will need a number of vaccines to work. That’s exactly why so many eyes are trained on the Chinese and Russian candidates. The recent promising news, especially regarding the latter, is indeed cause for cautious optimism.
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