Countries that signed up for Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine are complaining that hardly any doses ever came

A man wearing a high-vis jacket inspects crates stamped with the logo of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, on June 8, in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Shipping containers with Russian vaccines in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on June 8. Juan Mabromata/AFP; Getty Images
  • Russia is failing to meet demand from foreign countries for its Sputnik V vaccine
  • It promised vast numbers of shots, competing with Western producers.
  • But many never arrived, and now Russia says it needs all available shots for itself.
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Russia is falling far short of its aim to provide COVID-19 vaccines for almost a tenth of the world’s population by the end of the year.

Many of its orders for shots are behind schedule, prompting countries that trusted Russia to help them beat their coronavirus outbreaks to publicly complain.

Guatemala is one nation that has had enough. So far, it has only received 150,000 doses of the 8 million doses of Sputnik V vaccine Russia promised, for which it paid $80 million, Reuters reported.

Now Guatemala has asked Russia to pay back the it got in advance. Argentina, Mexico, and the Philippines also reported delays in the delivery of doses from Russia.

But Russia has now has its own crushing wave of infections to deal with, and has said that vaccine exports will have to wait.

Promises unmet

Russia’s shot came as a lifeline for poorer countries that were struggling to source vaccines. While Western nations were hoarding doses from suppliers like Pfizer and Moderna, Russia appeared to score a victory by filling the void.

67 countries have now approved the use of the Sputnik V. Russia promised 896 million doses of the vaccine to other countries, the Moscow Times reported.

But it has failed to get even one tenth of those to its buyers. As of May, the country had only exported 15 million doses, according to a Reuters tally.

Sputnik V is slightly different from other two-shot vaccines, in that it uses a slightly different component for the first and for the second shot, meaning they are not interchangeable.

Mexico, Argentina, and the Philippines have faced delays in receiving the second dose of the vaccine.

African countries have also seen an underwhelming return on promises from Russia, Foreign Policy magazine reported on Thursday.

Algeria in January announced plans to deliver 500,000 vaccines free of charge, but only had 50,000 to give as of April 7, Foreign policy reported.

Tunisia, Algeria, and Guinea, three of the biggest markets for Sputnik V, have received just 100,000 doses of the vaccine combined, Foreign Policy reported.

Production of Sputnik V is tricky

Because Sputnik V uses different components in its doses, it is particularly difficult to make.

“The issue with that is you have to have two different factories or at least two separate sections to manufacture the two doses,” Vikram Punia, founder of Pharmasyntez, a Russian pharmaceutical company, told The Moscow Times.

As of Tuesday, Russia had produced 36.7 million vaccine doses, Russia’s Trade Minister Denis Manturov said.

Up to 37 million doses could be produced in July alone, he said: 30 million in Russia and 5 to 6 million abroad.

That is still far fewer than the hundreds of millions of doses produced by Pfizer and AstraZeneca each month, Reuters noted.

A health worker wearing protective equipment is administering a Sputnik V COVID vaccine to a young woman in a ambulance, pn May 29 in Tatarstan, Russian
A woman gets a shot of Sputnik V in Tatarstan, Russia, on May 29. Yegor Aleyev/TASS; Getty Images

Newly in crisis, Russia’s ‘absolute priority’ is itself

Russia’s vaccination campaign had been sluggish for months, with only 11% of its population fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to John Hopkins University data.

But a recent spike in cases of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant, which has prompted Russia to institute a controversial campaign of mandatory vaccination, has led to a rise in demand for the shot domestically.

Russia is now struggling to meet demand at home. Local shortages have been reported in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere in the country, the Moscow Times reported on Tuesday.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said last week: “The absolute priority is domestic consumption, vaccination of Russians. Satisfying the demand abroad is currently not possible; all obligations will be fulfilled later.”