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OP-ED | 19-12-2020 10:16

This Sputnik has really gone to the moon

In recent weeks the Sputnik vaccine has become something of a fetish for this government, while at the same time demonised by opposition media in particular, but neither extreme is justified.

If anything was missing to place the finishing touch on a surrealistic year, a strong candidate might be honing in on a vaccine against coronavirus which excludes the most numerous and the most jeopardised risk group – the Sputnik V still awaiting approval in order to be inoculated into those over 60.

If Russia during much of the past century subscribed to the maxim: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” there could hardly be a better example of abilities falling short or a failure to meet the greatest needs.

This latest twist in the vaccine saga comes after six weeks of conflicting messages regarding the dates for com- mencing the vaccination campaign in Argentina, the choice of brands and the target groups and numbers singled out for the first batch – a long and winding road since President Alberto Fernández triumphantly announced on November 5 that 10 million people would be vaccinated with Sputnik V between this month and January, thus breeding false hopes which may have contributed to the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases.

It would be easy enough to write off the confusing contradictions since then as unforced errors of communication but it runs deeper than that to point to underlying problems of coordination and consensus at the administrative level within the “government of scientists.”

A chronic lack of coordination between ministries and ministerial levels within a coalition government more factional than most while consensus is not only lacking there but also among the presidential team of epidemiologists, who have strangely receded from sight in recent months – each one has his own pet brand of vaccine which they push with conflicting views on Sputnik and its competitors.

In all fairness, it should be pointed out that much of the confusion originates at source in Russia and is merely reflected by its potential Argentine client but there is no need to be helplessly passive here – the Russian imponderables should be factored into any intelligent strategy while a smarter self-defence would be to share all this with the general public, airing the problems with Sputnik as freely as those with Pfizer.

In recent weeks the Sputnik vaccine has become something of a fetish for this government, while at the same time demonised by opposition media in particular, but neither extreme is justified.

While its phases of testing plainly lack the transparency of developed countries, Sputnik is basically launched from the same platform with similar medical and scientific premises to the other vaccines – no alien invasion from outer space, as its name might imply. But if all these vaccines are so similar, why is this universal plague not being fought at a comparable level with a global vaccine harnessing all the economies of scale, it might well be asked, instead of turning the race for an antidote into a substitute for the postponed Tokyo Olympics? The COVAX facility has been created by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Commission in an uphill battle to ensure equitable vaccine access across the globe against the massive purchasing-power of the developed countries.

No single brand meets the multibillion demand – in Argentina alone the priority groups of the elderly, health workers the security forces and teachers number around a quarter of the population.

The opposition has reacted by calling for the interpellation and impeachment of Health Minister Ginés González García – the former at least would certainly seem to be in order. Even if he heads the portfolio, it seems slightly unfair to target González García over Sputnik when it was President Fernández making all the announcements and Deputy Health Minister Carla Vizzotti taking all the trips to Moscow. Yet the minister is considerably more culpable over the breakdown of negotiations with Pfizer where he placed himself at the forefront – a senior government official ventilating commercial negotiations with complaints of “intolerable conditions” seems the height of irregularity, especially when at the same time insisting that those negotiations continue.

A government identified with “impunity” in some circles due to certain of its main priorities this year would perhaps be wise to change one letter in that word and do a better job of seeking immunity against coronavirus.


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