On March 8, 2021, Sputnik Georgia published an article by Arno Khidirbegishvili, editor of pro-Russian Sakinformi news agency, with the following headline – “Fake patriotism or Russophobia – why Georgia disregards Sputnik V.” The author of the article highlights the advantages of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, while slamming the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca. Khidirbegishvili also speaks about Georgia’s cooperation with the COVAX Facility, noting that several countries involved in the scheme became victims of financial fraud.
Arno Khidirbegishvili: “The entire batches of vaccines were returned to AstraZeneca, because they appeared to be expired and falsified. There were some cases, when a country sent vaccines purchased from AstraZeneca to poor countries free of charge… Besides extremely poor and homeless people, nobody will agree in Georgia to receive an AstraZeneca vaccine… According to some leaked media reports, several small countries transferred money not directly to COVAX platform, but to the companies of scammers – intermediaries, who misappropriated the money and disappeared… Thus, the fate of USD 17 million transferred by Georgia remains unclear so far.”
Arno Khidirbegishvili said that Georgia should purchase Sputnik V instead of AstraZeneca vaccines, because it has a lot of advantages. He claimed that unlike other vaccines, Sputnik V is effective against British and South African coronavirus strains. Khidirbegishvili also noted that unlike other vaccines, the Russian COVID-19 vaccine is the only vaccine that does not contain SARS-COV-2 that gives it an additional advantage in terms of safety. Speaking about the advantages of Russian Sputnik V vaccine, Arno Khidirbegishvili voiced the same arguments in the article published by Sputnik Georgia on March 5.
Khidirbegishvili’s claim as if some countries returned AstraZeneca vaccines to the manufacturer because they were expired and falsified is disinformation. Moreover, the claim as if Sputnik is the only vaccine that does not contain a virus and does not infect humans is partly false, whereas the information about the efficacy of Sputnik V against British and South African strains is provided out of context. The information about media outlets allegedly writing about the countries that became the victims of fraudulent intermediary companies has no evidence.
Disinformation: Some countries returned AstraZeneca vaccines to the manufacturer because they appeared to be expired and falsified.
None of the countries that have purchased AstraZeneca vaccines have returned the vaccine doses to the manufacturer. Foreign media outlets reported on February 16, 2021 that South Africa wanted to return one million COVID-19 vaccine doses it has received from Serum Institute of India (one of the largest producers of AstraZeneca’s shots). However, the quality of vaccines was not the reason behind the country’s decision. South Africa’s health minister said that the country halted its rollout following a small clinical trial that showed the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant dominant in the country. Thus, South Africa stopped vaccinating its health workers with AstraZeneca vaccines.
It is noteworthy that following additional communication with the South African government, The Economic Times, the primary source of information, updated the article on February 17, 2021 and specified that despite halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccines, the government did not plan to return the vaccine doses to the manufacturer. Instead, the South African government offered the one million doses purchased from Serum Institute of India to the African Union that will distribute vaccines among other African countries. South Africa is presently vaccinating its population with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is administered as a single dose and has been shown to be 57% effective against the South African variant.
In February 2021, several European countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Italy imposed certain restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing insufficient data on its efficacy for people aged above 65. The European countries started lifting the restrictions only after the study released on 1st March 2021 based on the results of British vaccination program showed that a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is as effective (60%) for elderly people as the Pfizer vaccine.
Updated information: On March 11, 2021, Austria’s national medicines regulator suspended use of a batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine after four patients were diagnosed with dangerous blood clotting conditions after receiving the jab. Four other countries - Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia - followed suit. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) told The Guardian that there is currently no evidence that the vaccine caused the conditions, and that thrombosis is not listed as a potential side effect of the vaccine.
Partly false: Sputnik V is the only vaccine that does not contain a virus and does not infect people.
Speaking about the advantages of the Russian vaccine, Arno Khidirbegishvili claimed that Sputnik V is the only vaccine that does not contain SARS-CoV-2 that distinguishes it from other vaccines. Russian Sputnik V is “a vector-based vaccine,” which uses “harmless” viruses to deliver encoded genetic information to human cells. Adenovirus (the virus causing the common cold) is primarily used as a “harmless” virus. As a result, human cells start to produce antigens (spike-proteins) of the coronavirus according to the delivered instructions, which in turn stimulates the development of an immune response in a host body. It is noteworthy that Sputnik V is not the only vaccine developed using this technology. The Oxford/AstraZeneca and Jonson & Jonson vaccines, as well as Chinese CanSino vaccine are using the same technology.
Arno Khidirbegishvili provides information about the efficacy of Sputnik V against British and South African strains out of context. Researchers from Gamaleya Center in Russia, where Sputnik V was developed, announced on February 27, 2021 that revaccination with Sputnik V vaccine is working very well against new coronavirus mutations, including the UK and South African strains of coronavirus. No further details are available yet, because results of the trial have not been published so far.
Without evidence: According to foreign media reports, several small countries have transferred money not to the COVAX platform, but fraudulent intermediary companies that misappropriated the money.
Although Khidirbegishvili claims that foreign media outlets are actively reporting about some countries that became the victims of fraud, no such information can be searched through open sources. The author does not specify either the source of information or the country concerned.
172 countries, including 92 low- and middle-income economies are engaged in COVAX platform. On February 24, 2021, COVAX announced about deliveries of the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The COVAX Facility is the financing mechanism that will support the participation of 92 low- and middle-income countries in the Facility, enabling access to donor-funded doses of safe and effective vaccines.
Georgia, as a middle-income country, should purchase a certain amount of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines on its own with the support of COVAX; however, the date of receiving vaccines was postponed for several times. According to the letter sent by COVAX Facility to the Georgian Health Ministry, Georgia should meet a number of manufacturer’s conditions before receiving Pfizer’s vaccines.
Prepared by Medea Sulamanidze
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