Netanyahu speaks with Putin about buying Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine

Kremlin says leaders also discuss producing ‘Sputnik V’ shots in Israel; phone call comes after Israel strikes deal with Pfizer, in addition to Moderna

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of purchasing Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, “Sputnik V,” Netanyahu and the Kremlin said Monday.

“We will discuss it in the next few days,” Netanyahu told a press conference, saying he had spoken with Putin on the phone a short while earlier.

The Kremlin issued a statement saying Putin and Netanyahu had discussed potential cooperation regarding the Russian vaccine, including supplying it to Israel and even producing it in the Jewish state.

The development follows initial trial results by two US companies, Pfizer and Moderna, saying their own coronavirus vaccines are 90 percent and 94.5% effective, respectively.

Israel struck a deal with Moderna months ago, and in recent days also reached an agreement with Pfizer.

“My goal is to bring as many vaccines as possible, from as many sources as possible, for as many citizens as possible and as quickly as possible,” Netanyahu said in his remarks Monday.

He stressed that vaccines would not arrive “tomorrow, it will take time, but… we’re talking months.”

Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has so far been shown to be 92% effective, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which is backing the program, said last week.

A vial of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, in Moscow, Russia, September 15, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

The assessment was based on interim results of ongoing Phase III trials, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said, based on a calculation of 20 confirmed virus patient cases divided between those who received the vaccine and those who were given a placebo, out of 40,000 volunteers participating in the trial.

“There were no unexpected adverse events during the trials. Monitoring of the participants is ongoing,” RDIF said.

Sputnik V is being developed by the Gamaleya Institute, which will publish the interim research data in one of the leading international peer-reviewed medical journals following a further six months of testing, RDIF added.

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute, said the vaccine will soon be available for a wider population.

“This will break the current trend and lead to an eventual decrease in COVID-19 infection rates, first in Russia, then globally,” he predicted.

Israel has shown interest in the vaccine ever since Russia announced that it was ready for human trials, and in early November the director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center said the hospital had ordered 1.5 million units of the vaccine and would apply for Health Ministry approval for their use, pending the Phase III trials.

A Russian medical worker administers a shot of Russia’s experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, September 15, 2020. (Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP)

Hadassah Medical Center in Moscow, a branch of the Israeli hospital, is involved in the administration and monitoring of the Phase III vaccine trial. Jerusalem Hadassah Medical Center CEO Zeev Rotstein said Russian authorities had asked Hadassah to file the paperwork for approval of the vaccine with Israel’s Health Ministry.

Russia registered the vaccine for public use in August, in an unusual move, before the Phase III trials were started in September. The Phase III trial involved 40,000 volunteers in 29 clinics in Moscow. A quarter received a placebo. In addition, 10,000 people considered at high risk from the virus were also inoculated.

Requests for more than 1.2 billion doses of Sputnik V vaccine have come so far from over 50 countries, RDIF said.

A vaccine is seen as the best hope to break the cycle of deadly virus surges and severe restrictions across much of the world since COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year and unleashed devastation on the global economy.

So far 1.2 million people have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Israel is also working on a home-grown vaccine, though it is currently only in Phase I trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates.

AFP contributed to this report.

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