Demand finally exceeds supply in Russia’s vaccination race

Karaoke club manager Tatiana Amaliya has been scrambling to find a clinic with jabs to spare since the June 24 announcement of mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for hotel workers.

It is due to vaccinate its staff within the next three weeks or its site in the lavish ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana – the setting for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia – will face fines or forced closure.

“I tried the two clinics closest to us today. They both said they had no vaccines and told me to call the other. Neither of them knew when they would be back in stock and just told me to keep calling, ”she told the Moscow Times.

While shortages are rife in most developed countries, Russia has for months faced the opposite problem: a glut of supply because the Russians have been reluctant to be vaccinated. Only 23 million people – or 16% of the population – had received a first dose on Monday, the health ministry said.

Now, amid a devastating third wave of coronavirus that has set new records for Covid-19 deaths, regions across the country are rolling out mandatory vaccination programs to kick off the reporting campaign.

The sudden surge in demand has left vaccination centers outside the main cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg under-supplied. Along with Sochi and the surrounding Krasnodar region, the media to have reported shortages in Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Bashkortostan and Udmurtia, among others.

“We were receiving an average of 3,000 doses per week. But we have the capacity to deliver 7,000 vaccines a day – so we could use a week’s supply in half a day, ”Tomsk Governor Sergey Zhvachkin said of the Russians’ new desire to get away. get vaccinated – often under threat of losing their jobs.

For the first time since the start of the vaccination campaign in Russia, launched last December, more than 500,000 doses per day were administered over the weekend, according to the independent Gogov. website, which tracks and collates regional immunization statistics in the absence of comprehensive national information.

Rigid logistics

Officials and experts have blamed this on logistical challenges.

Vitaly Shakhnazarov, director of quality at COREX, a pharmaceutical logistics company working in Russia and Eastern Europe, told the Moscow Times that the localized shortages were the result of an “inflexible” delivery network.

“Since it is difficult to forecast the demand for vaccinations among the population, there is a need to create reserves of supplies in regional distribution centers that would allow rapid deliveries to vaccination centers in the short term.”

He said Russia’s current vaccine distribution plan is set in advance, with any surplus stored centrally, making it difficult for rapid distribution to remote areas during times of increasing demand.

Commerce Minister Denis Manturov told a government meeting on Tuesday that 36.7 million doses of the vaccine had been produced for use inside the country – each dose consisting of two components.

Until recently, production was sufficient to meet the country’s lukewarm demand and provide a few batches for export. But the new momentum has raised questions about whether Russia will be able to scale up production to meet higher levels of demand, as well as meet its dozens of commitments to sourcing countries around the world. .

Manturov said an additional 30 million doses would be produced in July. Previous complaints That Russia was on the verge of an exponential increase in domestic vaccine production fell short of expectations, and there are signs that Russian domestic producers of the flagship Sputnik V vaccine are struggling to meet existing commitments.

Pharmaceutical company R-Pharm – billed as a possible game changer for the mass production of Sputnik V – began growing cells to produce the vaccine last November, and billionaire owner Aleksei Repik previously told the Moscow Times it would aim to produce 10 million doses per month.

But the company has yet to release a single batch of the vaccine, according to data from a health ministry database that records individual drug series approved for distribution.

Generium – another of the seven companies authorized to produce the jab in the country, and which mentionned it could produce 5-8 million doses per month at full capacity – has not released a vaccine batch since mid-March.

R-Pharm, Generium and the other licensed producers did not respond to requests for comment. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) which markets and finances Sputnik V.

Delicate workmanship

Part of the possible production delay is the complicated makeup of Sputnik V, according to industry experts. Unlike other two-dose coronavirus vaccines, the first and second doses of Sputnik V are different formulations. Developers say this “cocktail of vaccines” offers a higher level of protection, but it is much more difficult to manufacture.

“The problem is, you have to have two different factories or at least two separate sections to manufacture the two doses,” Vikram Punia, founder of Pharmasyntez, told the Moscow Times.

“So there’s a really big problem with cross-contamination – and if you get cross-contamination, you’re going to have really big problems. This is a big problem in the case of Sputnik V.

Pharmasyntez initially announced that it would produce the full Sputnik V vaccine, but Punia said he ultimately “rejected the idea of ​​producing Sputnik V because we really don’t have that kind of capability.” Instead, the company will manufacture the single-dose Sputnik Light, primarily for export, as part of Russia’s global campaign to sell the jab in the developing world.

Another factor that may disrupt production is the long delay between a manufacturer completing a test batch of the vaccine and then receiving government approval for mass production, Punia said, citing that the Russian health ministry has lengthened the time it wishes to keep test samples under observation before granting approval.

He expects Pharmasyntez’s first jabs – which have just been submitted for analysis – to be under inspection for at least four months before the company gets clearance, pushing back its launch date for the. summer to at least fall.

Delayed delivery

Although demand for vaccines is finally on the rise, surveys continue to show that a significant portion of Russians are opposed to inoculation, and the Kremlin on Tuesday abandoned its goal of vaccinating 60% of the population by September 1.

The shortages are also complicated by Russians’ opinions on the four coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the country. Only the flagship product Sputnik V has published late stage Phase 3 clinical trial results and has been most heavily promoted both at home and abroad.

“There is more information about Sputnik V and therefore more confidence,” said Polina Petrenko, a resident of Sochi, who has tried three times to get the vaccine at the walk-in vaccination center in the main shopping mall in Sochi in recent days.

“Yesterday they offered me CoviVac” – another Russian vaccine – “but I don’t trust him. When I was in the queue, a lot of people would call at different clinics in Sochi – there are no Sputnik V vaccines anywhere, ”she said.

President Vladimir Putin declined to say which of the Russian vaccines he was vaccinated with.

Sochi mayor Alexey Kopaygorodsky said supply shortages are temporary and more jabs are being delivered from Moscow.

But residents told the Moscow Times that clinics are unable to guarantee vaccines, even for those who have made an appointment.

“The vaccination center was still short of supplies on Tuesday and said the new ones had not arrived,” Polina said.

“The mayor still says that the vaccines are“ on the way ”. From March probably – I don’t understand how it can be so difficult to supply a city with vaccines. “

Pjotr ​​Sauer contributed reporting.

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