Russia presents new Covid-19 vaccine factory even as its residents hesitate to get vaccinated

CNN has been granted exclusive access to the facility, now home to Generium Pharmaceutical, which has been contracted to increase production of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V.

The sprawling high-tech complex is one of seven new production centers across the country.

Every step of the production process had to be carefully designed and calibrated, including extensive water filtration systems, to mass produce the brand new vaccine.

“In principle, the manufacturing process was known on a small scale, in the lab, but doing it on a large industrial scale is another universe,” Dmitry Poteryaev, Generium’s scientific director told CNN.

“You can’t just go from one liter of bioreactor to 100 liters or 1000 or 1 ton of bioreactor. Every process is different, the oxygenation is different, the mass balance is different,” he explained.

He said these issues were resolved several months ago and the factory was now ready to further increase production.

“Today we are producing several million doses every month and hope to get an even higher amount, maybe 10 or 20 million a month,” Poteryaev said.

Sputnik V boxes are kept in a cold room before shipment.

In cavernous refrigerators, with temperatures even colder than the freezing Russian winter, vials of Sputnik V are packed in crates, awaiting distribution. Each vial has its own QR code, we are told, so that it can be traced back to individual patients, no matter where they are in the world.

The vaccine has become one of the most pre-ordered vaccines in the world, with at least 30 countries, from Argentina to the Philippines, sign contracts for nearly 2.5 billion doses to date, according to figures from the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is responsible for the global production and distribution of the vaccine.

Hesitation at home

But the Russians’ demand for Sputnik V has so far proved much less enthusiastic.

It is a country with one of the highest numbers of Covid-19 infections in the world – over 4.1 million cases and above. But it also has one of the highest vaccine hesitancy rates in the world. A recent opinion poll, published by the Independent Levada Center, indicated that only 38% of Russians were ready to be vaccinated.

Earlier this month, one of the key scientists behind the vaccine’s development said that around 2.2 million people – less than 2% of Russia’s population – had received at least the initial dose of the vaccine. two-injection scheme.

Millions of doses of Sputnik V are already produced each month at the Generium Pharmaceutical factory.
Sputnik V was the first Covid-19 vaccine to be approved for use around the world last August, even before large-scale human trials ended.
There was broad skepticism at first about Sputnik V, which takes its name from the world’s first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, starting the space race with the United States. Critics say “Putin’s vaccine” was designed to be another first in a global race, to project the power of the Kremlin, however effective or safe it may be.
The race inside the Russian coronavirus vaccination laboratory
But results from large-scale human trials, published and peer-reviewed in the prestigious medical journal Lancet earlier this month, showed an impressive 91.6% efficacy for the vaccine.

Yet anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are rampant on the internet and are seen by millions of people in Russia, watch groups say. Alexander Arkhipova, a social anthropologist at a state university known as RANEPA, told CNN that many Russians have a cultural tendency to be wary of the medical establishment, which is seen as a controlling arm of the government, meddling in people’s privacy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to receive the vaccine.

Another reason for doubt may be that if President Vladimir Putin said his daughter had been vaccinated, he has not yet taken the vaccine.

The Kremlin swept aside questions about the reasons, saying Putin had a vaccine planned and when he is finally vaccinated the nation will be notified.

But in a country where many people look to the Kremlin strongman for his lead, his abstinence on the Sputnik V front is noticeable and disheartening.

Ice Cream Incentives

All adults without an underlying health problem in Russia can now benefit from a free vaccination. But progress in Moscow, for example, is painfully slow. In a city of more than 12 million inhabitants, less than 600,000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.

So the pressure is to increase the numbers.

The state-funded Gamaleya Institute where the vaccine was developed was happy to invite the CNN team to get the inoculation, so to speak, from the source.
People line up to receive a photo of Sputnik V at a clinic in the GUM shopping center in Moscow.

And all over Moscow – the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia – pop-up clinics are being set up.

There’s one in the upscale GUM mall, a short walk from snow-capped Red Square, where Muscovites can browse the latest fashion trends in expensive boutiques, before heading upstairs to get Sputnik V. They even get free ice cream with each inoculation – coated in vanilla chocolate.

Customers of the GUM department store receive free ice cream after their vaccination.

Staff told CNN they vaccinate around 200 people every day. There is capacity for hundreds more.

Another clinic has been set up in a trendy food hall, Depo Moscow, to encourage vaccination after a street meal or a sushi dinner.

For classical music lovers, there’s even one inside Helikon, a prestigious Moscow opera house, where stark tones of recorded tenors echo through the speakers as people await their inoculation.

Some people understand that the vaccine is their best chance of surviving the pandemic.

84-year-old Vadim Svistunov received both his initial vaccine and the booster in an opera house.

Vadim Svistunov, 84, and his wife Nonna, 86, attended the opera house for the initial vaccine and the booster three weeks later.

“We don’t want to go up there yet,” Svistunov told CNN, as he pointed to the sky. “We are in no rush,” he said.

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