Growing evidence suggests Russia’s Sputnik V COVID vaccine is safe and very effective. But questions about the data remain


Antonio Calanni/AP/AAP

Megan Steain, University of Sydney and Jamie Triccas, University of SydneyRussia was the first country to register a COVID vaccine, with its health ministry giving emergency approval to the Sputnik V vaccine in August 2020.

This decision was met with scepticism from the international scientific community because it came a month before results of phase 1 and 2 trials were published.

Growing data from clinical trials and real world rollouts suggests the vaccine is safe and very effective. But there are several outstanding questions around the vaccine, such as whether it’s associated with the very rare blood clotting condition seen with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and how well it performs against variants of the coronavirus.

So what kind of vaccine is Sputnik V, how does it work, and what data are we missing?

How does Sputnik V work?

Sputnik V was designed by The Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology. It has its very own Twitter account advertising its status as the “world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine” and approval in 69 countries including Russia, South Korea, Argentina and the UAE.

Like the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the basis for the vaccine is a harmless form of adenovirus, one of several viruses that can cause the common cold.

The adenovirus acts as a packaging system for DNA to deliver instructions to our cells. This DNA instructs cells to make the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2. The immune system is then trained to generate an immune response to the spike protein, which provides protection against the real SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Unlike the other adenovirus-based vaccines, Sputnik V uses two different adenoviruses for the first and second dose. This is done as people can develop an immune response against the adenovirus vector used in the first shot of the vaccine, which could possibly reduce the overall effectiveness.

The two doses are separated by three weeks, rather than the 8-12 weeks usually recommended for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Sputnik V doesn’t require the ultra-cold temperatures like the mRNA-based vaccines, which makes it an attractive candidate for many countries desperate for vaccines. Gamaleya has been open to sharing its manufacturing platform, unlike some other vaccines.

How well does Sputnik V work against COVID-19?

Data from the phase 1 and 2 clinical trial was published in September in the highly reputed medical journal The Lancet. The data showed no major adverse reactions, and side effects that were common to the other COVID-19 vaccines. These were primarily fever, headaches and pain at the injection site.

Most impressively were the results of the larger phase 3 trial published in The Lancet in February this year, which reported 91.6% efficacy against symptomatic infection. This places Sputnik on par with the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, for which the original efficacies were 95% and 94.1% respectively.

The results from the phase 3 trial also suggested a single dose was protective, with an efficacy of 79.4%. This led to the approval of “Sputnik Light” in some countries, a single dose regimen that overcomes some of the issues manufacturing the second dose of Sputnik V. The two different adenoviruses used in the first and second dose of Sputnik V need to be produced using separate cell cultures. Only having to produce a single type of adenovirus streamlines the production.

Outside of these trials, a press release from Gamaleya says real world analysis of the vaccine given to nearly 3.8 million Russians reported an efficacy of 97.6% against infection. This led Gamaleya to claim Sputnik V is “the world’s most effective vaccine”.

Despite the encouraging efficacy results, there are still some concerns. Both the phase 1 and 2 safety trials, and the phase 3 efficacy trials, have been criticised for not sharing their raw data or the full details of their study design, as well as inconsistencies in the published data.

Sputnik V isn’t yet approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) or the World Health Organization, meaning it cannot be used by COVAX, the COVID vaccine global access initiative. Gamaleya has yet to provide the EMA with all the necessary manufacturing and clinical data necessary to gain this approval.

What are the unanswered questions about Sputnik V?

There are a number of outstanding issues with the vaccine.

Of particular importance is the question of whether it’s associated with the very rare blood clotting condition that’s been linked to the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, which also use adenovirus vectors.

Gamaleya claims there have been no reports of this occurring in individuals given Sputnik V. Analysis following the administration of 2.8 million doses of Sputnik V in Argentina supports this. The results, announced via a press release by the Argentine health ministry, reported no deaths associated with vaccination and showed mostly mild adverse events.

And there was no indication of an association between Sputnik V and this condition in the clinical trials.

However, there hasn’t been enough published real world data to be completely confident researchers would be able to pick up on the condition if it did emerge.

It’s also unclear how well Sputnik performs against the rapidly spreading variants of concern, such as Delta. Some of these variants are partially able to escape from the immune response generated by COVID vaccines.




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Research published in July examined antibodies in the blood of people vaccinated with Sputnik V to see how it performed against the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants. It found there was a reduction in the ability of their antibodies to block infection. It’s unclear how this reduction would impact the vaccine’s effectiveness against hospitalisation and death, as we’re still waiting to see published real world data on this.

We need further studies which directly compare blood samples from people vaccinated with the different vaccines before Sputnik’s claims of being highly effective against variants can be confirmed. We’ll also need to see real world analysis of its effectiveness against variants, such as that performed with Pfizer and AstraZeneca.The Conversation

Megan Steain, Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney and Jamie Triccas, Professor of Medical Microbiology, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Global


How Vladimir Putin uses natural gas to exert Russian influence and punish his enemies


Pipes for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline are loaded onto a ship at a German port, June 1, 2021.
Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Lena Surzhko Harned, Penn StateThe recent U.S.-Russia summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin suggests that a controversial Russian natural gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, is a done deal.

If completed as planned by the end of this year, Nord Stream 2 will convey 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea and thence to the rest of Europe. It is expected to bring US$3.2 billion to Russia annually.

Construction had been halted for over a year by U.S. sanctions passed in 2019 on the pipeline’s construction and financing. Sanctions were later expanded in 2020. Some Russia experts expected those sanctions to be a bargaining chip for Biden at the recent Geneva summit to pressure Putin over Russian occupation of territories in Ukraine and Georgia; support for Belarus’ dictatorial regime; violation of human rights within Russia; and the poisoning, jailing and outlawing of political opposition.

Instead, a month before the summit, the White House lifted sanctions on Nord Stream 2, dismaying some U.S. legislators and U.S. partners in Europe.

The pipeline project is a joint venture between a handful of European gas companies and Russian giant Gazprom, a majority state-owned company that is the largest gas supplier in the world. For Putin, the pipeline is an opportunity to increase his influence in Europe by deepening the region’s dependence on Russian energy.

Natural gas has been the bedrock of Putin’s power both domestically and internationally for decades. Nord Stream 2 gives the Russian leader a new direct and powerful line of control in Western Europe.

Vladimir Putin (left) and Joe Biden (right) stand in front of a door. Putin is facing the camera with a neutral expression. Biden is turned slightly to the left to look at Putin.
Biden and Putin had a tense if cordial meeting in Geneva.
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images News via Getty Images

How Putin controls Russian oil

Since taking office in 2000, Putin began seizing control of the Russian gas and oil industry. He renationalized Gazprom, the state oil company that had been privatized after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Scholarly research has demonstrated that regaining government control over the gas and oil industry contributed to consolidation of authoritarianism in Russia. And it coincided with crackdowns on Putin’s political opposition.

In 2003 Mikhail Khodorkovsky, owner of the Yukos oil company and a vocal critic of Putin’s growing authoritarianism, became the regime’s first famous political prisoner, after he was arrested at gunpoint and imprisoned for 10 years for tax evasion. Yukos was eventually seized by the government and absorbed into the state-owned companies.

By the end of his first term in office in 2004, Putin’s government had significant control over oil and gas production in Russia, which is the one of largest producers and exporters in the world. Proceeds collected from oil and gas sales allowed Putin to pay for his domestic agenda and boost military spending. It also gave him extraordinary leverage over neighboring countries that relied on Russia for their energy needs.

For example, in 2006 and 2009, when the Ukrainian government adopted more pro-Western policies and upset the Kremlin, Russia outright shut off the country’s gas supply – and by extension, shut off the gas of countries down the supply line in Central and Western Europe, including Germany.

Russia versus Europe

As a direct line of supply from Russia to Europe, Nord Stream 2 could avoid such problems for Western Europe in the future. But it also opens Western Europe to the same kind of direct Russian pressure it has used to punish Ukraine. So the proposed pipeline has been divisive.

Nord Stream 2 has already produced a rift between NATO allies, even before its completion.

Sweden, Poland and the Baltic countries, for example, have all raised concerns, citing environmental problems related to construction and maintenance of the pipeline. They worry that Russia will use its new pipeline infrastructure to increase its military naval presence in the Baltic Sea. That would increase Russia’s intelligence-gathering capacity.

Further “crumbling NATO,” as Putin puts it – sowing divisions in the alliance – would be a win for his regime.

The Russian leader sees NATO, which he calls a Cold War relic, as the greatest threat to Russian security. Disunity in Europe allows Russia to continue pursuing political repression of its own citizens and territorial aggression against neighboring nations with less foreign interference.

Ukraine’s dilemma

For Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 presents both a security and financial threat.

Ukraine largely stopped buying gas from Russia in 2015 following Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and support for a still-deadly Russian-sponsored separatist war in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine.

Russian military vehicles lined up on the road for military drills.
A Russian military drill in April 2021 in Crimea, a former territory of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia in 2014.
AP Photo/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

However, Ukraine still collects up to US$3 billion in annual fees because Russian gas currently runs through a pipeline in Ukrainian territory to get to Europe.

Nord Stream 2 will deprive Ukraine of this income. According to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, the money lost in gas transit fees will mean Ukraine will have “nothing to pay for the Ukrainian army” to defend Ukraine from further Russian aggression.

In April 2021, observers documented a build-up of Russian military at Ukraine’s border with Russia, as well as in the waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The Russian military pulled back after a few weeks, but there is evidence that some 80,000 Russian troops remain near Ukraine, along with military equipment, including trucks and armored vehicles.

Zelensky says the pipeline has become a “real weapon” against Ukraine. In Kyiv, fears are that once Russia stops relying on Ukraine for transit to Europe, Putin will begin to exert more pressure on the Ukrainian government over the warring Donbas region or resume military aggression.

The risk may not be worth the reward of cheaper gas prices for European consumers. The economic boost that Russia will likely receive from capturing the European gas market will further enrich Putin’s kleptocratic regime – and, history shows, finance his undemocratic projects in Eastern Europe and beyond.

[The Conversation’s most important politics headlines, in our Politics Weekly newsletter.]The Conversation

Lena Surzhko Harned, Assistant Teaching Professor of Political Science, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cyber Cold War? The US and Russia talk tough, but only diplomacy will ease the threat


Patrick Semansky/AP

Ahmed Ibrahim, Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan UniversityOver the past few years, tensions have been rising between Russia and the United States — not in conventional military terms, but in cyberspace. The issue came to a head at this month’s summit in Geneva, when US President Joe Biden threatened reprisals over allegedly Russian-backed cyber-attacks on US targets.

This confrontation first rose to global attention in 2016, when the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported Russia had directly influenced the outcome of the presidential election, favouring the Republican candidate Donald Trump by hacking and leaking 60,000 emails from the private account of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign director.

Then, in 2020, a major cyber attack on IT firm SolarWinds compromised the security of a wide range of US government and industry entities, including the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held Russia responsible for the incident, although Trump himself went against the consensus, seeking to downplay the attack and blame China instead.

Microsoft president Brad Smith described it as the “largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen”. Microsoft began investigating the attack after many of its customers were caught up in it, including major tech companies and federal agencies.

Russia denied any involvement in the SolarWinds incident, publicly rejecting what it described as “unfounded attempts of the US media to blame Russia for hacker attacks on US governmental bodies”.

The attack was ultimately attributed to a cyber-criminal group called Nobelium, which has continued to be active and allegedly perpetrated a series of cyber-attacks earlier this year, although there is no clear evidence it did so with Kremlin backing.

Fuel pipelines and black angus steak

More recently, the US Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, which crippled the largest oil pipeline in the US, was attributed to a Russian cyber-mercenary gang codenamed DarkSide.

That was followed last month by an attack on meat processor JBS, shutting down parts of its operations in the US, Canada and Australia, and severely disrupting global meat supplies. This time the FBI pointed the finger at REvil, another profitable Russian-based cyber-criminal group.

In both of these cases, the victims reportedly paid ransoms to resume their operations. While this is expensive and arguably encourages future attacks, disruptions in operations can be even more costly.

The FBI claims to have recovered more than US$2 million of the ransom paid by the Colonial Pipeline Company.




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A few weeks before the Colonial Pipeline attack, the Biden administration imposed economic sanctions on Russia over its cyber-meddling in US elections. But the US has now understandably made combating ransomware attacks its top priority.

The Ransomware Task Force, convened in December 2020 by Microsoft and leading tech security firms, called for global cooperation to tackle the ransomware threat and break its business model.

Does the US engage in similar activities?

The US is certainly known for its cyber-offensive capabilities. Perhaps the most widely reported engagement was the 2010 Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

In 2015, the US Cyber Command and National Security Agency successfully hacked key members of ISIS, while the following year Wikileaks revealed the CIA had developed a powerful suite of hacking tools.

The US has both the capability and the motivation to conduct extensive cyber-infiltration of its adversaries.




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At this month’s US-Russia summit in Geneva, Biden talked about establishing cyber-norms and declaring certain critical infrastructure as off-limits.

This list identified 16 sectors that should be excluded from offensive action, including government facilities, IT systems, energy infrastructure, and food and agriculture — all four of which have come under suspected Russian-backed attack in recent years.

Some cyber-security advocates have criticised US strategies in recent years as being too weak. Biden’s comments at the Geneva summit seem to be an attempt to strike a firmer tone.

So is this the start of a cyber-war?

Cyberspace is considered the fifth domain for warfare, after land, sea, air and space. But the truth is that IT systems are now so ubiquitous that they are also firmly embedded in the four other domains too, meaning a successful cyber attack can weaken an enemy in many kinds of ways.

This in turn can make it hard to even define what counts as an offensive act of cyber-war, let alone identify the aggressor.

Although the Kremlin continues to deny any association with cyber-criminal gangs such as DarkSide or REvil, Russia nevertheless stands accused of giving them safe harbour.

How do we stop global cyber attacks?

The recent Ransomware Task Force report specifically attempted to address the issue of ransomware. But it also offers useful advice for countering state-backed cyber-crime. It recommends:

  • coordinated, international diplomatic and law-enforcement efforts to confront cyber-threats
  • establishing relevant agencies to manage cyber incidents
  • internationally coordinated efforts to establish frameworks to help organisations that are subject to cyber-attacks.

Successfully stamping out international cyber-attacks will be tremendously hard, and is ultimately only achievable with good diplomacy, trust, cooperation and communication.

While global superpowers continue to sponsor cyber-attacks on foreign shores while decrying attacks against their own assets, all we end up with is the virtual equivalent of mutually assured destruction.The Conversation

Ahmed Ibrahim, Lecturer (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Russia and China are sending Biden a message: don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over


Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.

Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.

But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.

Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.

Biden has put Putin on notice, saying he will ‘pay a price’ for alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election.
Evan Vucci?AP

Putin’s message to the new US president

The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.

Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.

In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.

He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:

Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.

Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.

It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.

Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.

And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.

This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.

But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.




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China pushing back against the US, too

Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.

Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.

Yang Jiechi, centre, speaking at the opening session of US-China talks in Alaska.
Frederic J. Brown/AP

Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said

The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.

He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.




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Russia and China drawing closer together

Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,

We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.

Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.

What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.

The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.




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Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.

It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.

The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.

The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.The Conversation

Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.