Putin's vaccine gamble

Putin's vaccine gamble

"Go ahead, take it," President Putin says to you.

"Take what?" you ask.

"This Covid vaccine," he continues, turning a small syringe over in his hands. "It's safe. Trust me. We… tested it on my daughter."

Would you do it? Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting that a lot of people will say yes. On Tuesday he announced that Russia has become the first country to register a COVID-19 vaccine, and that mass vaccinations will begin there in October.


The catch is: no one knows if it really works. In order to win the vaccine race, the Gamaleya institute in Moscow never ran what scientists call a "Phase III Trial": the critical final round of testing in which medications are given to thousands of people to make sure that they actually deliver immunity without intolerable side effects.

Globally, there are just eight vaccines at Phase III right now, and Russia says it will join them this week. But up until now the Russian vaccine has been tested on just 76 people. Among them are the Russian scientists who developed the vaccine -- they injected themselves with it and seemed pleased with the results. And one of Putin's daughters took it as well. After a day or so of fever, her dad said, she was fine.

Cutting corners to win the global vaccine race isn't without risk, so what are the pros and cons here for Putin?

Well, if the vaccine is effective, it would deliver a few huge wins.

A PR coup. The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest global crisis since World War Two, and it won't truly end until there's a vaccine. Russian state TV has been hyping this for months, and getting there first would be a huge feather in Putin's cap: it's no accident that the vaccine was named Sputnik V, an homage to the time that the USSR beat the USA to put the world's first satellite in orbit.

A public health victory. A successful vaccine would enable economic and social life to get back to normal in Russia faster than anywhere else. That would be a huge help for Putin, whose approval ratings have touched historic lows during the pandemic.

Soft power in a syringe. If other countries line up to get the Russian vaccine rather than wait for the other Phase III trials around the world to finish, it would give Russia tremendous influence over economies and societies around the world. Moscow says at least 20 countries have already expressed interest. If the key to returning to (something like) normalcy says "Made in Russia" on it, people won't forget.

Lastly, vaccine is spelled M-O-N-E-Y. Russia says there's already demand for a billion doses. Whoever manufactures those billion doses will be raking in big cash. And permission to hold that lucrative rake will, as ever, come directly from Putin himself – a company this important will be controlled by people very close to the Russian president.

What if the vaccine doesn't work? Cases could surge again as ineffectively-vaccinated people begin socializing and working as normal again. Negative side effects could be widespread. The logistics of delivering it at home and abroad could seize up.

If any of these things happens on a large scale, it will be hard to cover up, and Russia would take a hit in all four of the areas above, particularly if competing vaccines elsewhere in the world emerge from Phase III trials soon.

But given the upsides, Putin is probably betting that the vaccine is good enough to make any negative news of that kind easy to contain, deny, or spin.

He's also waiting for an answer to his question to you: what's it gonna be — would you roll up your sleeve for Sputnik V?

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

Political division, disinformation and, frankly, stupidity are costing lives. It is not authoritarian to mandate vaccines in America. In fact, there is historical precedent. Making vaccine uptake a requirement will save tens of thousands of lives and maybe many more than that. There really aren't two sides to this argument, there is just the science.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Hope you're having a good week. I wanted to kick it off by talking about vaccines. We all know the recent spike in cases and even hospitalizations that we have experienced in this country over the past couple of weeks. It looks like that's going to continue. It is overwhelmingly because of Delta variant. The hospitalizations and deaths are overwhelmingly because too many people are un-vaccinated.

More Show less

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some fun, intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

First up — what's the Refugee Team?

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the International Olympic Committee created for the first time the Refugee Team to allow those who had fled persecution in their home countries to participate in the Olympics. Up from 10 athletes in 2016, it now has 29 participants across 12 sports from conflict-ridden countries: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.

A separate team of refugees will also participate at the Paralympics, both of which are managed by the IOC and the UN Refugee Agency.

Iranian-born Kimia Alizadeh, a Germany-based taekwondo champion, narrowly missed out on bronze this week, which would have been the Refugee Team's first ever Olympic medal. Follow the team here.

Dr Anthony Fauci says the US is again "going in the wrong direction" as COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across America. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations — an apt indicator of serious illness from COVID — have spiked in 45 out of 50 states as a result of the contagious delta variant and rejection of vaccines, which are leading many US states to now have a vaccine surplus. We take a look at the 10 states where hospitalization rates have increased the most in recent weeks, and their corresponding vaccination rates — and unused vaccine rates.

Iraqi PM's face-to-face with Biden: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Iraq's prime minister, met with President Biden at the White House Monday to discuss the future of US troops in Iraq. The US still has about 2,500 troops stationed in Iraq to engage in "counterterrorism" operations and train Iraqi forces. In an interview published this week, al-Kadhimi called for the withdrawal of all US combat troops, because, he said, Iraqi forces have proven capable of fighting ISIS militants on their own. (Just last week, some 30 Iraqis were killed when ISIS militants attacked a busy Baghdad market.) Al-Kadhimi still wants non-combat US troops to stay on in a training capacity. He became PM in 2020 as a consensus candidate after nationwide protests over corruption and joblessness forced the resignation of the unpopular previous government. At least 500 protesters were killed during a crackdown by Iraqi security forces, fueling demands for fresh elections, which are set to take place this October. The green PM has a tough job: he has to juggle relations with the Biden administration, which just pledged $155 million in aid to Iraq, and ties with Tehran, an influential player in Iraqi politics. (Iraq relies on Iran for energy imports, and Iran-backed militias inside Iraq are a force to be reckoned with.) Local sentiment has soured on the US presence as Iraqis resent being caught in the middle of US-Iran fights inside Iraqi territory.

More Show less

7,100: As a third COVID wave ravages Myanmar, the death toll has now risen above 7,100, a gross undercount because that total includes only those who died in hospitals. Myanmar, which has one of the weakest healthcare systems in Asia, is also dealing with a vaccine hesitancy problem: people are rejecting shots because they see vaccination as validation of the military, which overthrew the democratically elected government earlier this year.

More Show less

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

More Show less

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal