Russia Has Exported Just 48 Million of a Promised 1 Billion Sputnik COVID Vaccines

Russia has exported an estimated 48 million doses of its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine out of a promised 1 billion, according to a life science data analytics firm.

Airfinity estimates that 62 countries have supply agreements with Russia for about 1 billion doses of the Sputnik vaccine, which has been approved in around 70 countries. So far, only 4.8 percent of the doses have been exported, the firm estimated.

Russian state media earlier this year broadcast reports of the vaccine "conquering the world" as Moscow marketed it toward developing countries while wealthy nations hoarded Western-developed vaccines, the Associated Press reported.

Judy Twigg, a professor specializing in global health at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the vaccine was "the only game in town" for a while. However, she added that Russia's chance "to really stake a claim as the savior" of the pandemic is gone.

"Russia squandered that opportunity," Twigg said. "I think in some cases, it's actually left Russia's reputation in Iran, Guatemala, Argentina, maybe Mexico, perhaps even a little worse off than it would have been if it had done nothing, or if it had waited and made more fulfillable promises from the very beginning, because people are disappointed."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Sputnik Vaccine
Russia has only exported an estimated 48 million doses of its promised 1 billion Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, according to a life science data analytics firm. Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

Esperita García de Perez got her first vaccination against COVID-19 in May. That, along with her Catholic faith, made her feel better protected against the virus, and she had hoped to get her second shot of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine a few weeks later.

But the 88-year-old is still waiting. She was infected with the virus last month, and now her hopes for survival are pinned on the host of medications and home care she is receiving.

Millions in developing nations from Latin America to the Middle East also are waiting for more doses of Sputnik V after manufacturing woes and other issues have created huge gaps in vaccination campaigns.

The head of the Russian state-controlled fund that invested in the vaccine insisted Wednesday the supply problems have been resolved.

Venezuela, which designated Sputnik for those over 50, ordered 10 million doses in December 2020 but has gotten slightly less than 4 million. Argentina, the first country in the Western Hemisphere to administer Sputnik, got its first shipment Dec. 25 but it is still waiting for many of the 20 million it purchased.

"I had a long time now, many months, anguished because (the vaccine) was going to arrive, then it was not going to arrive, then I was going to have to wait, then I was not going to have to wait," García de Perez said, adding that "you want the certainty and hope that the thing is going to come."

Unlike other COVID-19 vaccines, Sputnik's first and second shots are different and not interchangeable. Manufacturing in Russia has been marred by reports of production difficulties, particularly in making its second component. Experts have pointed to limited production capacity as well as the fact that the process is very complicated.

Sputnik is a viral vector vaccine, which uses a harmless virus that carries genetic material to stimulate the immune system. Manufacturers can't guarantee stable output because working with biological ingredients involves a lot of variables in terms of the quality of the finished product.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolls and markets the vaccine abroad and has production contracts with 25 manufacturing sites in 14 countries, said it "is in full compliance of the Sputnik V supply contracts, including of the second component, after a successful production ramp-up in August and September."

The fund's CEO, Kirill Dmitriev, said in an interview with AP that all supply issues "have been fully resolved. All the issues with the second component are resolved in all of the countries."

"There is not one vaccine manufacturer in the world that didn't have vaccine delivery issues," he said.

Although the West largely relied on vaccines made in the U.S. and Europe, such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, many developing nations have sought easier-to-get vaccines from China and Russia. The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency have not yet approved Sputnik V for use.

In Argentina, the delays in shipments of Sputnik and a virus surge in March led to public pressure on the government to speed up negotiations with other pharmaceutical companies.

An initial agreement was for 20 million doses, of which the country had received about 14.2 million as of Tuesday. A later agreement was signed for a local laboratory to produce the vaccine with the active ingredient shipped from Russia. It has produced about 1.2 million first doses and some 3.6 million second doses.

This month, Argentine officials said the fund's requested the return of 1.3 million doses for packaging reasons. The doses have been replaced.

Virus-battered Iran has received only about 1.3 million doses from Russia out of 60 million doses it had been promised. The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted the country's ambassador to Russia as saying in April that the doses were expected to be shipped between May and November.

There are indications that Iran also has struggled with a shortage of Sputnik's second component. Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi last month urged those who received the first dose to get a second shot of AstraZeneca, citing the "uncertainty" of when Russia will come through.

COVID Vaccine Clinic
Millions of people from Latin America to the Middle East are waiting for promised doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine due to manufacturing problems and other issues. Above, residents stand behind a strip of tape serving as a barrier as they gather outside a vaccination center looking to be inoculated with a second dose of the Sputnik vaccine in Caracas, Venezuela, on September 16, 2021. Ariana Cubillos, File/AP Photo