Russia Begins Global Ramp Up Of Covid-19 Sputnik V Vaccine

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Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

  • Mass vaccinations commence this month in Russia
  • Manufacturing partnerships with other countries Sovereign Wealth Funds
  • Overseas manufacturing from January 2021
  • Production scale issues over sheer size of populations  

The Russian Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine has entered into mass production and will be available for Russian nationals from the middle of December. The vaccine, produced by the Russian Gamaleya Research Institute (GRI) and funded by Russia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, has also been licensed for production overseas, with Belarus, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela each partnering with Russia to manufacture using their own facilities, and like Russia, funded by their respective Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Production is expected to start in overseas countries from January 2021. India, for example, is able to manufacture 100 million doses per annum and has signed off a deal to do just this.

However, the sheer size of populations in many countries will mean getting the vaccine to everyone will take time. India’s population for example is an estimated 1.4 billion.

50 countries in total have expressed interest in the Russian vaccine, which is expected to be less expensive than those offered by other countries. The price for individual countries will be defined by factors such as production costs and logistics. In many countries, for example in Russia, vaccination costs will be covered by national health insurance programs. Russia has stated that the price will be competitive as making commercial profits on the vaccine is not the stated intention. In China, a similar vaccine recently put on the local market by Sinovac retails for the equivalent of Rubles 4500 (US$60).

Sputnik V is based on well proven and understood technology that used dead samples of Covid-19 to produce an immune reaction. There are some drawbacks with Sputnik V, as the GRI vaccine requires two shots to be effective, and can induce a negative reaction in a small minority of patients. On the other hand it can be stored at cool room temperatures, whereas other vaccines require storage at temperatures well below freezing; a logistical problem in many tropical and subtropical countries. It is for this reason that Sputnik V is likely to be in demand in the Middle East, countries such as India, and across Africa, much of South-East Asia and South America.

Despite initial Western media skepticism, the Sputnik V post-registration clinical trials involved over 44,000 people in Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India, Venezuela and Belarus. British virology experts now seem to be coming around, with Ian Jones, Professor of virology at the University of Reading quoted as saying “I see no reason to doubt. I agree that their initial results caused consternation, but I don’t think it’s because they weren’t valid. They were released a bit soon.” Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has said that “Sputnik V’s results are “consistent with what we see with other [adenovirus-based] vaccines.”

Much of the trust placed in the Sputnik V vaccine comes from understanding of the Gamaleya Institutes solid and proven research and background.

Gamaleya Research Institute

The Institute was founded in 1891 by Nikokai Gamaleya, a protege of Louis Pasteur. It is based in Moscow and has numerous branch institutions across Russia, with at least seven clinical investigations sites across the country involved in Covid-19 research. Two preparations have been under investigation, being an injectable liquid and a powder.

The GRI stated on August 1st that the initial trials had been completed and that licensing was being prepared to allow the vaccine to be used from the beginning of October. Russia’s Minister of Health, Mikhail Murashko, said on August 2 that the vaccine was to be used first on school teachers and health care workers and later made available to the general population. This initial process is now underway.

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