Vials Russia's Sputnik V vaccine seen at the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow on August 6, 2020.
  • The ministry of health has told cabinet that two local companies could secure more than 20 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for South Africa. 
  • One of the companies confirmed that it has been allocated 15 million doses.
  • These vaccines could be brought to South Africa as soon as it gets approval for emergency use, the company says.
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A South African pharmaceutical company says it is ready to bring fifteen million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to the country immediately, as soon as it gets emergency approval from local health authorities.

South Africa’s vaccine drive – which was supposed to start this week – has been thrown into disarray after the health department halted the distribution of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. This after a new study found the vaccine provided minimal protection against the 501Y.V2 variant identified in SA. 

Bloomberg reports that the health ministry presented cabinet with a proposal for vaccines that includes as many as 23 million Sputnik doses, provided to South Africa via two pharmaceutical companies.

One of the companies, Lamar International, confirmed to Business Insider that it has already been allocated 15 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine by the Gamaleya Institute, which developed the vaccine and is part of Russia’s ministry of health.

According to a Lamar spokesperson, the doses could be flown to South Africa as soon as the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) registers it for emergency use. "As soon as a flight is available," she added.

Russia started using the Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use in August 2020, becoming the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine. Two million people have already received the vaccine. It has been approved for use in a number of countries including Iran, Mexico and Argentina. On Monday, Hungary became the latest to approve Sputnik. The Philippines is currently in talks for 25 million doses, Fortune reports.

A peer-reviewed study published in the international science journal The Lancet last week showed the vaccine to be 92% effective after two doses (three weeks apart), in a trial of 20,000 people. This is among the highest efficacy rates reported for Covid vaccines.

However, there are as yet no findings to prove whether Sputnik would be effective against the 501Y.V2 variant.

The Lamar spokesperson said the Gamaleya Institute is currently testing the efficacy against the variant in its laboratories, and additional data is expected this week. This will be presented to SAHPRA.

Sputnik is based on a genetically engineered adenovirus – a common virus that causes flu and colds - which renders the Covid virus harmless. The vaccines needs to be stored at two to eight degrees Celsius. The Sputnik vaccine is estimated to cost $20 (R300) for two doses, cheaper than Pfizer ($26), Moderna ($60) and China's Sinovac ($27). But it is more expensive than AstraZeneca ($6).

While Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) director and vaccinology expert Professor Willem Hanekom told the SA health publication Spotlight that the Sputnik results were rigorous, he noted the lack of diversity in its trial - only white males were included and there is no mention of its efficacy on HIV. 

Lamar International, along with Forrester Pharma, was started by Jerome Smith, one of the founders and a previous CEO of Cipla Medpro, the large generic pharmaceutical group. Smith resigned in 2013 and later sued Cipla amid a dispute over bonuses paid to him.

Compiled by Helena Wasserman

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