UAE approves Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for use

Russia's sovereign wealth fund chief says many countries face a slower than expected vaccine roll-out, while those in front will see an economic rebound

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How Sputnik V works

UAE authorities approved Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday.

Officials said the shots would be available for emergency use.

The decision came after the Emirates hosted a small-scale Phase 3 trial of the vaccine, involving about 1,000 volunteers, produced by Gamaleya National Centre of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention said the decision was part of "efforts to increase prevention levels against the virus and to safeguard the health of the country's citizens and residents".

"Study results have demonstrated the effectiveness of the vaccine in triggering a strong antibody response against the virus, its safety for use and its compliance with international safety and effectiveness standards," the ministry said on state news agency Wam.

Larger trials involving tens of thousands were carried out in Russia and the shots are being widely used on the country's huge population, which numbers more than 140 million.

Gamaleya reported in December that Sputnik V's effectiveness is 91.4 per cent, though that it yet to be peer-reviewed by independent scientists.

Speaking to The National, Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is in charge of funding and supplying the vaccine abroad, said Thursday's decision means there are now 12 countries using Sputnik V.

"The UAE approval for us is particularly important, because we know the UAE health ministry and health system has one of the best standards in the world and is really an opinion maker," he said.

"The second point for us, is that this was done following clinical trials in the UAE.

"So, the UAE relied not only on Russian data but on data it received from vaccinating its own citizens and the citizens of many nations."

Early on, Russia said it would need foreign partners to help to increase vaccine production.

On Thursday, it said the shots destined for the Emirates would be arriving from drug makers in India, China and South Korea.

Among the other nations to receive Sputnik V were Argentina, Serbia, Palestine, Venezuela, Paraguay and Turkmenistan.

Mr Dmitriev said: "We will also announce today approval from Hungary, which is the first nation in the EU for Sputnik.

"So together we will have 12 nations who already approved Sputnik by now and it shows we are one of the best vaccines in the world."

He said many countries had understated the time it would take to roll out the vaccine. In Europe, which is experiencing one of its coldest winters in years – increasing the need to stay indoors – daily case numbers are threatening to spiral out of control.

"Many people have too-high expectations of the speed of the vaccine roll-out," Mr Dmitriev said.

"But countries who roll out the vaccines quickly will see definitely economic improvement earlier than those that roll out vaccines slowly."

How Sputnik V works

Sputnik V is based on two inactivated viruses called adenoviruses that normally infect people, reports Daniel Bardsley.

These have had genetic material added so that, once the vaccine is injected, human cells produce coronavirus spike proteins. The immune response to these harmless spike proteins provides protection, should the person be later infected with the coronavirus.

The vaccine was developed by Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow and financed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

It was registered with the Russian Ministry of Health in August, making it the first coronavirus vaccine to gain approval from a national health authority - although this sparked concern over whether trials up to that point had been extensive enough.

Clinical trials have since continued, including in the UAE, and officials have claimed the vaccine is 91.4 per cent effective at preventing illness from Covid-19 after two doses, with a single dose said to be 73 to 85 per cent effective.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine works in a similar way to Sputnik V, but is instead based on a modified adenovirus that normally infects chimpanzees. Trials to combine the two vaccines have been considered.

How Sputnik V works