International 10/03/2021

Russia lands in the EU to produce its vaccine

Moscow says it has signed contracts with companies in Germany, Italy, France, and Spain to produce doses

3 min
Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured in late February in Moscow.

BarcelonaWhen last August the Kremlin presented to the world the success of Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine against covid-19, one could already sense that it would soon become geopolitical candy for Vladimir Putin. Now, in the midst of a climate of tension between the European Union and Russia, Moscow wants to fully enter the European vaccine market and take advantage of the concern that many member states are experiencing over the unexpected slowness of the vaccination process coordinated from Brussels. After seeing how last week the European Medicines Agency (EMA) began the process to study the Russian doses, the Kremlin is pushing to start manufacturing them directly from Europe. This Tuesday, Moscow has assured that they have reached an agreement with production facilities in Italy, Germany, France and also in Spain to produce the Sputnik V. Kirill Dmitriev, director of the sovereign wealth fund RDIF, which financed the research of the vaccine, explained it, without giving many details and in declarations to the state channel Rossiya 24.

This is the Russian version, which needs confirmation from the affected parties. And Italy has already done so. Moscow has signed a deal with Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Adienne Pharma & Biotech SA to produce doses of Sputnik in Italy, the company's founder and chairman Francesco Di Naro confirmed to Bloomberg on Tuesday. The doses will be produced at the Adienne plant in the Milan region and will be the first Sputnik V doses to be produced in the EU. The information suggests that the Italian production will start in June and that, until the end of the year, about 10 million doses can be produced.

Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, the developers of the Russian vaccine are already in contact with the German vaccine manufacturer IDT Biologika GmbH, as admitted by IDT spokesman Ulrich Gartner, and also with French pharmaceutical companies. Germany, where there is growing criticism of Angela Merkel's government for the particularly slow pace of immunization, was the country that opened the door to Sputnik in early February, offering support and possible production sites once it was approved by the EMA in the hope of accelerating the pace of inoculation in the EU. Emmanuel Macron's team spoke along the same lines at the time.

As for Spain, the government of Pedro Sanchez has pointed out that they are not aware of any agreement signed in its territory. "At the moment we are not aware that any contract has been formalized for the manufacture [of the Russian vaccine] in Spain", says the Ministry of Health. From Madrid, however, it is admitted that Moscow "is looking for several places in Europe to increase its manufacturing capacity in the event that its vaccine is authorized [by the EMA]" and that "they are talking with several laboratories in the European Union".

Friction with the EMA

All of this takes place while the tension between Brussels and Moscow has been growing in recent days. On Sunday evening, the chairwoman of the EMA board, Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, "warned" the EU not to authorise Sputnik urgently - as Hungary has done, or as the Czech Republic and Slovakia plan to do -, citing insufficient data on those vaccinated. "It's like playing Russian roulette", she said in an interview with Austrian television channel ORF. "At the moment we have no data on the side effects on those vaccinated", she remarked, and urged countries to wait for "the green light" from the European regulator, which just last week began analyzing it but will need some time to decide whether to approve its use or not.

These statements have not gone down well in Moscow. The creators of the doses, the state research center Gamaleya and the sovereign wealth fund RDIF, came out to demand "a public apology from the EMA" for these "inappropriate" comments that "undermine the credibility of the EMA and its evaluation process". In the same statement, the Russian creators took the opportunity to boast about Sputnik V. On the one hand, they assured that the Moscow authorities are ready to supply vaccines to 50 million Europeans from June. On the other hand, they recalled that their creation against covid-19 has already been registered in 46 countries: from Argentina to Turkmenistan, via Algeria, Belarus, and the United Arab Emirates.

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