Russian Sputnik vaccine seems effective, experts call for EU use

The Russian company behind the Sputnik V vaccine today shared the intermediate test results of their final phase of research. The manufacturer claims that the vaccine has an effectiveness of 91.6 percent. The preliminary test results were published today in the renowned scientific journal The Lancet.

The Sputnik vaccine is currently not part of the vaccination strategy in the European Union. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) says that the manufacturer did not apply for approval, but did request scientific advice. EMA also claims to have spoken with the manufacturer, but the content of that conversation is confidential.

Two experts call for a rapid examination of the Russian vaccine. โ€œThe expected high effectiveness is fantastic news, and also striking,โ€ says immunologist Dimitri Diavatopoulos. He finds it particularly interesting that the Sputnik vaccine is the first vector vaccine investigated with such high effectiveness. The other vector vaccines – those of AstraZeneca and Janssen – arrive at expected effectiveness of around 60 percent.

โ€œ The working methods of the three companies are largely the same, so you wonder why this effectiveness is so high at Sputnik. I think this has to do with the carrier on which the spike protein is attached: Russia has used two different virus particles for this purpose.โ€

The preliminary test results show that the 20,000 people who have been vaccinated have not received any serious side effects. Three quarters were given the vaccine, the rest was given a placebo. Among the vaccinees, 2144 were elderly. For an optimal injection, two injections are required within 21 days.

โ€œ These research results are extremely good,โ€ says special professor of vaccine development Gideon Kersten. Also, the fact that three quarters of the vaccinees received the vaccine and only a quarter of the placebo is not remarkable. โ€œYou see that often, that the group receiving the drug is larger. They do so because a larger group with an effective vaccine is statistically stronger. By the way, the placebo group is still strong.โ€

The Russian medicine agency approved the Sputnik vaccine in August already accelerated. The hasty process of approval was highly critical; Russia bypassed many scientific procedures, doubting the reliability and safety of the vaccine. But the fact that Phase 3 research results have now been shared is good news and transparent, the experts say.

According to Diavatopoulos, these positive interim results open doors for cooperation. โ€œCombining vaccines from different manufacturers can work well because they are all focused on the same spike protein.โ€ Therefore, the immunologist calls to combine vaccines. โ€œGive prick one of AstraZeneca, and prick two of Moderna. Or Sputnik or Janssen – if theyre approved. Then we can work much faster.โ€

According to the immunologist, this could work well. โ€œThis is also done with other (heterologous) vaccines and it often works.โ€ However, the vaccine companies will not respond very positively to this proposal. Many of them have a commercial aspect, says Diavatopoulos. โ€œFor many manufacturers, this will be curses in the church. They do not want to compare their vaccine one on one with another vaccine.โ€

Vaccination faster than now

However, before we get to that step, there is still a hurdle to be taken: the approval of the EEA. Then we can look at the data of the Russians. โ€œPreviously, the Russians were not transparent at all,โ€ says Kersten. That is why it is so important for the EEA to look into a possible approval. โ€œAt the moment the EMA says that this looks safe and effective, we must also start using Sputnik massively. More people need to be vaccinated faster,โ€ says Diavatopoulos.

EU countries can, if it is up to the Sputnik manufacturer, have 100 million doses of the vaccine already in the second quarter of this year. The manufacturer already offered the doses to the EU last Friday, provided that the vaccine is approved by the EMA.

Because of the many doubts about reliability, the EU did not seem very keen at that time; Brussels correspondent Sander van Hoorn has not yet seen any signs that the EU has changed its mind through the review. Hungary, which operates its own course, has already ordered 2 million doses.