Russia's Ambassador to India Nikolay R. Kudashev has lauded Russia and India's cooperation in the fight against COVID-19, which he described as “one of the vital areas of our bilateral cooperation nowadays”. Kudashev said the two countries are interacting closely on medical science, including with regard to new coronavirus strains, while maintaining an active, non-politicised dialogue in the framework of multilateral platforms – the World Health Organisation (WHO), G20, and BRICS.
“Given the recent launch of the Russian vaccine (Sputnik V) in the Indian vaccination campaign, this second delivery is very timely. The efficacy of the Sputnik V is well-known around the world,” Kudashev said, before pointing to Moscow and Delhi's good relations as an example of international anti-pandemic cooperation.
Russia has been vaccinating its citizens with Sputnik V since the second half of 2020, and Russian scientists say the jab is also effective against new strains of COVID-19
With the arrival of more doses of Sputnik V, the Indian government's efforts to make a third vaccine available alongside Covishield and Covaxin in at least 35 cities across the country are underway. Indians need to register themselves online on the CoWIN website or via the Aarogya app before getting inoculated.
The jabs are being distributed by the Hyderabad-based company Dr. Reddy’s – it has signed a partnership with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is marketing Sputnik V internationally. Several other Indian companies have also finalised agreements with the RDIF to manufacture Sputnik V locally.
According to RDIF's CEO Kirill Dmitriev, the company expects to produce more than 850 million doses of Sputnik V in India this year. The local manufacturing process will start in July and be done by Dr. Reddy's Laboratories – Dr. V. K. Paul, head of India’s COVID-19 task force confirmed.
With an efficacy of 91.6 percent, among the highest in the world, Sputnik V was given emergency use authorisation (EUA) by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) in April and was first approved in Russia last year.
“We hope for the introduction of Sputnik V Lite in India soon,” Dmitriev added.
Dr Reddy’s expects to start talks with the Indian government in June to receive approval from the designated authority before rolling out Sputnik V Lite in the country. If Sputnik V Lite – which has over 80 percent efficacy – gets approval, it will be the first single-dose vaccine in India.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Russia's Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which manufactures Sputnik V, received a sample of the coronavirus strain recently detected in India and plans to test the Russian vaccine's effectiveness against it.
"The institute received a sample of the Indian strain of the coronavirus. Next week we will start testing [Sputnik V's effectiveness against this strain] using a serum from our vaccinated persons. We should provide a response by the end of the next week," the institute's director Alexander Gintsburg told Sputnik on Thursday.
WHO said this week that the new variant, which contains E484Q and L452R mutations in the S protein, has been detected in at least 17 other countries, including the UK, US, and Singapore. Several studies have pointed towards reduced efficacy of the COVID vaccine in neutralising this strain, but India’s Federal Health Ministry has so far refused to buy into the claims.
Russia: The First Responder
Russia is among the first countries to respond to India’s devastating crisis and has shipped 22 tonnes of aid, including 75 ventilators, 150 medical monitors, and 200,000 packages of medicine in the last week of April.
“Life-saving humanitarian assistance delivered last month by the Russian side is being successfully used to help Indians to overcome the consequences of the disease,” Kudashev said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin promised emergency aid to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the peak of crisis as India was struggling with shortages of oxygen, medicine, and ventilators. The aid comes “in the spirit of friendship and a particularly privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
India has been reporting an average of 350,000 daily cases, the highest globally since the start of the pandemic.