MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia's Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine will cost less than US$20 (S$26.90) per person on international markets and Moscow aims to produce more than a billion doses at home and abroad next year, its backers and developers said on Tuesday (Nov 24).
The Sputnik vaccine, named after the Soviet-era satellite that triggered the space race in a nod to the project's geopolitical importance for Moscow, is administered in two shots, each of which will cost less than US$10, according to the official Sputnik V Twitter account. For Russian citizens, inoculation will be free of charge.
Mass vaccination in Russia, which has the world's fifth-highest number of recorded COVID-19 cases, has yet to begin as so-called Phase III clinical trials continue.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin had yet to be vaccinated with Sputnik V. His position meant he could not take something that was still being trialled, it said. One of his two daughters had taken it, however, Mr Putin disclosed in August, and felt fine afterwards.
Russia's pricing announcement comes as Russia looks to scale up distribution and production and as three vaccines, one by AstraZeneca, another by Pfizer/BioNTech and a third by Moderna, have emerged in the West, raising hopes that the global pandemic can be tamed next year.
Moscow, keen to win global market share, touted the international price for Sputnik V as competitive.
"It's more than twice as cheap as other vaccines that have the same efficacy levels," Mr Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund, told a briefing. "Right now, Sputnik V is the cheapest vaccine with an efficacy level above 90 per cent in Phase III clinical trials".
The price of the Russian vaccine is cheaper than some other Western rivals such as the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, which costs €15.50 (S$24.70) per shot, but more expensive than the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which will be sold in Europe for around €2.5 per shot.
Russia plans to produce around 2 million doses of Sputnik V this year, and Dmitriev said Moscow and its foreign partners had capacity to make more than a billion doses starting from next year, enough to vaccinate more than 500 million people.
Over 50 countries had made requests for more than 1.2 billion doses, he said. Supplies for the global market would be produced by partners in India, Brazil, China, South Korea, Hungary and other countries.
Production of a new freeze-dried form of the vaccine, which means it can be stored in a fridge and is easier to distribute, was also under way, he said, something he said he believed would make it attractive for countries in Africa and Asia. Talks were also ongoing with other foreign partners on increasing production, he added.
RDIF and the Gamaleya National Center said earlier on Tuesday that new clinical trial data based on 39 confirmed cases and 18,794 patients who had both shots had shown that Sputnik V was 91.4 per cent effective on day 28 and over 95 per cent effective on day 42. That's well above the 50 per cent effectiveness threshold for COVID-19 vaccines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The data would be published in a leading scientific journal next month for experts to scrutinise, Mr Dmitriev promised.
The Phase III trial of the shot is taking place in 29 clinics across Moscow and will involve 40,000 volunteers in total, with a quarter receiving a placebo shot.
Russia's healthcare system is under heavy strain, the Kremlin said on Tuesday, as authorities reported a record 491 deaths linked to Covid-19 and infections surged.
Russia has been criticised by some scientists in the West who have accused it of cutting corners in an effort to try to rush out the vaccine and complained about the amount of data available to allow others to interpret its research.
In particular, some Western scientists have criticised Moscow for giving the regulatory go-ahead for the shot and launching mass vaccinations before full trials had been completed.
Russia has rejected such criticism and insisted that it is doing everything safely and responsibly. It alleges a Western dirty tricks campaign to put people off its vaccine in what it believes has become a battle for legitimacy and market share.
Mr Dmitriev on Tuesday praised Western success at developing vaccines, saying the world would need different vaccines. He said Russia was ready to share its know-how with manufacturers such as AstraZeneca if helpful.