‘Dishonest competition’: Putin lashes out at G20 over vaccines

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin complains about a lack of international recognition for its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine at the G20 summit.

Putin urged G20 health ministers to discuss the mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates 'as soon as possible' [File: Sergei Savostyanov/Reuters]

Russia has complained about the lack of international recognition for its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine at a G20 summit, where leaders agreed to step up global inoculation efforts.

In an apparent reference to the failure of Russia’s Sputnik V to win foreign regulatory approval, President Vladimir Putin on Saturday urged G20 health ministers to discuss the mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates “as soon as possible”.

“Despite the decisions of the G20, not all countries in need can have access to anti-COVID vaccines,”  Putin said in video message comments to counterparts that were retransmitted on Russian state television.

“This happens mainly because of dishonest competition, protectionism and because some states, especially those of the G20, are not ready for mutual recognition of vaccines and vaccination certificates,” he added.

Earlier this month, South Africa refused to approve the Russian jab despite the country’s dire need for vaccines, claiming it could increase the risk of HIV infection among men.

Sputnik V also lacks regulatory approval in the European Union and the United States.

Chinese President Xi Jinping – who, like Putin, did not travel to Rome for the G20 summit and participated by video link – made a similar call for the mutual recognition of vaccines, according to Chinese state media.

Rising cases

Putin and Xi were said to have avoided travelling to Italy because of tightening coronavirus restrictions in their home countries.

In Russia, where new cases are spiking despite the availability of the Sputnik V jab, Putin ordered a weeklong paid holiday starting on Saturday to contain the spread of the virus.

Russian authorities said the daily infection numbers had risen to 40,251, a record for the country since the start of the pandemic, with only 32.5 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

Russia’s health ministry will recommend using the Sputnik Light vaccine against COVID-19 only as a booster for people who have already been vaccinated, Russian news agencies cited the health minister as saying.

Russia had previously promoted Sputnik Light, which comprises the first shot of its flagship two-shot Sputnik V, as an effective standalone vaccine, as well as a booster that can be combined with non-Russian vaccines.

“As the Delta variant is advancing, there will definitely be changes made today to the methodological recommendations on vaccinations where it will [say]: only use ‘Sputnik Light’ for re-vaccination,” Health Minister Mikhail Murashko was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.

“We see that a higher quality immunity is formed after two-stage vaccination, and this is crucially important to preserve health,” Interfax news agency quoted Murashko as saying.

Meanwhile, at the G20, summit host and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the international community was “very close to meeting the WHO’s target of vaccinating 40 percent of the global population by the end of 2021”.

“Now we must do all we can to reach 70 percent by mid-2022,” he added.

According to a source following the summit discussions, “all the leaders” agreed to commit to the target set out by Draghi.

The Italian prime minister noted while more than 70 percent of people in developed countries have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, the percentage drops to about 3 percent in the poorest parts of the world.

“These differences are morally unacceptable, and undermine the global recovery,” he said.

The two-day summit in Rome of G20 leaders – their first meeting in person since the global coronavirus pandemic – also included climate change and threats to the global economic recovery on the agenda.

Their meeting was preceded on Friday by G20 finance and health ministers’ discussions, in which they also cited the urgency of meeting the 70 percent vaccination target by the middle of next year.

To meet the objective, they committed to “take steps to help boost the supply of vaccines and essential medical products and inputs in developing countries and remove relevant supply and financing constraints”.

A healthcare worker administers a dose of Russia’s Sputnik V to a patient at a vaccination centre in Moscow [Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP]
Source: News Agencies