Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine nearly as effective as Moderna, Pfizer vaccines, despite earlier concern

sputnik vaccine efficacy
Photo via Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Russia’s Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine is as nearly as effective as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, based on trial results published in The Lancet on Feb. 2. 

According to the medical journal, the efficacy of the two-dose vaccine, based on the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 21 days after the first dose of vaccine in Phase 3 trials, is 91.6%. That makes it just the third vaccine, after the Moderna and Pfizer two-dose vaccines, that has surpassed the 90% efficacy mark in the late-stage trial mark. 

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson reported that its vaccine was 66% effective against COVID-19 and 85% effective against its most serious symptoms, and the Novavax version had almost 90% efficacy against the virus but only about 50% against the South African variant.

The Washington Post reported that nearly 20,000 participants took part in the Sputnik trial, with about three in four participants receiving the vaccine and the rest getting a placebo. 

The Sputnik vaccine is already in use in Russia and several other nations, but this just-published report is the first large-scale, peer-reviewed study showing its potential to be used in curbing the pandemic. 

“The publication of internationally peer-reviewed data on Sputnik V’s clinical trial results is a great success in the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alexander Gintsburg—director of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology which developed the vaccine—in a statement published by the Post

Participants in the trial who received the Sputnik V vaccine got doses 21 days apart. The data shows that 62 confirmed cases were found in the placebo group, compared to 16 in the vaccine group. The trial included over 2,000 volunteers who were over 60 years old, but results did not differ statistically for this older group.

CNN also noted that “serious adverse events associated with vaccination were also rare,” occurring in fewer than 0.2% of people who received the vaccine. The majority of side effects that were reported were mild, including injection site pain, flu-like symptoms, and low energy levels.

CNN’s report did caution, however, that “the analysis includes only symptomatic cases of COVID-19, however, and the authors note more research is needed to understand the vaccine’s efficacy against asymptomatic COVID-19, transmission and how long protection may last.” 

In August, when the Sputnik vaccine was first announced, there was skepticism about how effective it would be. At the time, Russia announced that scientists modified the common cold-causing adenovirus to carry genes for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus and that vaccination could potentially protect the recipient’s immunity for two years. 

“Despite the earlier misgivings about the way this Russian Sputnik V vaccine was rolled out more widely—ahead of sufficient Phase 3 trial data—this approach has been justified to some extent now,” Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, told CNN. 

CNN noted that the vaccine is already approved in Russia, Belarus, Serbia, Argentina, Bolivia, Algeria, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, UAE, Iran, Guinea, Tunisia, Armenia, and the Palestinian territories. It has been administered to more than 2 million people worldwide even before the Feb. 2 report detailing its efficacy. 

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Sources: The Lancet, Washington Post, CNN

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