Russia’s vaccine, which Mexico recently approved for emergency use, is named for the satellite that won the space race against the United States.
Sputnik V — the V is not a Roman numeral five, it’s short for vaccine — was tested in Mexico last December and found to be 91.6% effective in preventing people from developing COVID-19.
On Tuesday, Mexico signed a contract for 24 million doses of the product, said Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell. The deal provides for the first 7.4 million doses between February and April with more due in May.
“This gives us an enormous opportunity to accelerate vaccination in Mexico,” said Lopez-Gatell.
Known clinically as Gam-COVID-Vac, Sputnik V can be stored in normal fridges, rather than freezers, according to scientists at the Gamaleya Institute in Moscow, which developed it.
This ease of transportation and distribution has appealed to Mexico, which has hard-to-reach rural areas and a struggling national health care system.
Lopez-Gatell met Russian officials and gained access to technical files about the vaccine during a trip to Argentina in January. Argentina started rolling out Sputnik V to health workers in December.
Russia began administering the vaccine back in August before it had even gone through large-scale clinical trials. But approval in Mexico came after those trials were completed and the results published in the medical journal Lancet.
The vaccine’s name was the brainchild of Kirill Dmitriev, the director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund that is the vaccine’s chief lobbyist and financial backer. It refers to the world’s first satellite, launched by the U.S.S.R. in 1957.
“Americans were surprised when they heard Sputnik’s beeping. It’s the same with this vaccine. Russia will have got there first,” said Dmitriev.
At the time of Sputnik V’s approval, Moderna and Pfizer were months away from announcing the results of their Phase III trials or filing for F.D.A. authorization to begin wide-scale vaccination programs. Scientific experts expressed concern at the speed.
“I hope that the Russians have actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC News.
Mexico, which has the world’s third-highest fatality toll after the United States and Brazil, began mass immunization Dec. 24 but so far has only used the vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
It has also authorized the shot developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and has a deal to produce the vaccine in collaboration with Argentina. Like Pfizer’s and AstraZeneca’s, Russia’s vaccine requires an initial inoculation and a followup months later.
Sputnik V has been cleared in more than a dozen other countries including former Soviet republics as well as allies such as Venezuela and Iran, as well as South Korea, Argentina, Algeria, Tunisia and Pakistan.
While the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be for seniors in isolated areas, Sputnik V vaccine will be used in smaller towns and medium-sized cities. A third vaccine, requiring only one shot and tested in Mexico, China’s CanSino vaccine will be used in large cities.
The federal government’s Mi Vacuna website, where people 60 and over can register for a vaccination, has crashed multiple times.
Once servers are restored, seniors will be asked to provide their CURP identity number, which for foreign residents is on their ID card. Then, clicking “Quiero vacunarme” (I want to get vaccinated) will pull up another form to fill out.
Participants will be issued a digital receipt with a unique file number, and will be contacted when it’s their turn.
Not everyone is waiting. Multiple U.S. citizens living in Mexico have announced they are taking a trip to their home states to be vaccinated now.
With information from Reuters, Moscow Times, New Yorker