Friday, June 18

Russia Trumpets Vaccine Exports, While Quietly Importing Doses

MOSCOW — Russia has lauded with much fanfare the arrival of its homegrown vaccine, Sputnik V, in Latin America and Africa, and even in some countries in Europe, calling it a solution to shortages around the world.

It has been less vocal, though, about one country that is also importing the vaccine: Russia.

The Russian government has contracted out the manufacture of Sputnik V from a South Korean company that has already sent the vaccine to Russia, and plans to do the same with a company from India.

While the scale of the imports are impossible to gauge because of nondisclosure agreements, they undermine some of the narrative Russia has proudly presented about its role in the pandemic as an exporter of vaccines to needy countries.

The imports, which are expected to ramp up in coming weeks and months, could help Russia overcome a dismally slow vaccination rollout at home. They also illustrate that even countries whose scientists designed successful shots rely on cross border trade for vaccine supplies.

This past week, President Vladimir V. Putin said that enough Sputnik V to fully inoculate 8.9 million people had been distributed in Russia since regulators approved the drug last August. Russia’s minister of industry said Monday he expected a quick ramp-up by April to twice that amount every month.

Russia’s vaccination campaign has fallen far behind that of most European nations and the United States. Russia has vaccinated 4.4 percent of its population, compared to 10 percent in the European Union and 26 percent in the United States.

The Kremlin this past week for the first time acknowledged that scarcity of the vaccine played a role in Mr. Putin’s decision to delay his own inoculation to avoid stimulating demand for shots before they became widely available outside the capital.

In January, when Mr. Putin became eligible for a shot under Russian rules based on his age, “production was not yet sufficient to fully meet demand in the regions,” said his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.

It’s not clear how large a role the imports will play in alleviating scarcity, accelerating vaccinations and saving lives in Russia. But it positions Russia lower in the pecking order of vaccine geopolitics, as an importer rather than just an exporter.

Russian officials have chosen to highlight exports, however. “A vaccine for all humankind,” the Sputnik V website declares. State media has lavished attention on even relatively small shipments of tens or hundreds of thousands of doses to foreign countries.

More than 20 countries have begun vaccinating with small amounts of shots provided by Russia, including Argentina, Hungary, Bolivia, Algeria, Paraguay and others. Russian officials have said that most demand for Sputnik V in foreign countries will be met by overseas production.

In written answers to questions, GL Rapha, the Korean manufacturer, said it could not discuss shipments because of the nondisclosure agreement.

The company said it expects to produce 150 million doses of Sputnik V this year. The Russian Direct Investment Fund did not respond to questions about imports to Russia.

Oleg Matsnev contributed research.

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