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‘Health is beyond politics’: WHO’s top official in Europe ‘optimistic’ about Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine emergency authorization

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which distributes the Sputnik V vaccine, filed for the jab’s accelerated registration at the World Health Organization (WHO) in late October 2020. Over seven months and several other greenlighted vaccines later, it has yet to receive the verdict from the international health body.

The WHO has a set of procedures to assure the efficacy, safety and quality of a vaccine before approving it, and Sputnik V is currently going through them, Kluge, head of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, told RT on Thursday.

“Right now, the inspectors are in Russia, going to the different sites,” he said, speaking on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). The mission of the WHO specialists concludes on Friday and will result in “a number of recommendations” that the manufacturer would have to fulfil to boost the chances of the jab getting approved.

“I’m very, very optimistic” about the prospects of the approval of Sputnik V, Kluge said.

The jab, developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, boasts the efficacy of over 91.6%, lacks any significant side effects, and had been praised by the international scientific community.

“I’ve always been very-very clear that the approval shouldn’t depend on the country of origin,” Kluge responded when asked if the prolonged wait could be linked to the cooldown in the relations between Moscow and the West over the recent years. “Health is beyond politics,” he insisted.

The health official regretted that such stance wasn’t shared by everybody, acknowledging that “in most countries we saw that the pandemic very quickly got politicized.” Covid-19 has again proved that when politics interferes with health issues it’s the vulnerable groups – the poor, the migrants, the inmates and the homeless – who suffer the most, he said. In order to avoid such scenarios in the future, the WHO has to learn to “translate the science to be helpful for the politicians,” Kluge said.

Returning to Sputnik V, Kluge insisted that that fact that it’s made in Russia actually strengthened its hand, as the country’s “rich history in vaccines manufacturing, uptake and rollout” is well known in the world.

“I also would like to thank Russia for its international solidarity because we need countries like Russia to help other countries,” he said. Despite the lack of approval by the WHO and the EU watchdog, European Medicines Agency (EMA), Sputnik V is now widely used around the globe, with more than 65 countries and entities putting their trust in it.

“Only with solidarity we’re going to get out of the pandemic because no one is safe until everyone is safe,” the WHO official stressed, calling upon rich countries to share vaccine doses more actively, including through the COVAX mechanism launched to ensure equal access to vaccines for low-income countries.

Kluge refused to put his estimate on when the Covid-19 pandemic, which already saw over 177 million people infected and almost 3.7 million deaths linked to it, is going to finally end, saying that “many people got in trouble by putting out a date.” He expressed belief that victory against the virus will be achieved when “we have 70% of the population vaccinated,” which would require increasing the number of available vaccines, boosting production and effective campaigns to change public opinion in countries with high vaccine hesitancy.

But the work mustn’t stop even when the coronavirus becomes history, the health official said.  

“What happened with the pandemic – many of us forecasted it, but still the health systems were not prepared. Some of the strongest health systems got overwhelmed,” he pointed out. The WHO will be setting up a special center in the German capital of Berlin, which will gather data on the interphase between human, animal health and the environment to provide “foresight of threats” for decades ahead, so that another pandemic doesn’t catch the humanity unawares.

WHO Regional Office for Europe, Hans Kluge, at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) © Sputnik / Vladimir Astapkovich

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