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Will Canada use COVID-19 vaccines from Russia and China?

TORONTO — A new study from the Lancet has shown that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which was initially met with skepticism in the West, has an efficacy rate of nearly 92 per cent, almost on par with Pfizer and Moderna, which are at 95 per cent.

Last week, Russia signed a deal to produce Sputnik V in Italy, a first for the European Union, and EU regulators have been looking into approving distribution of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, vaccines from Sinopharm and Sinovac, two Chinese companies, have been widely approved in the Middle East and Latin America.

But there’s no indication that any of these vaccines are on the radar for approval by Canadian health authorities.

Epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan says the Russia’s Sputnik V initially was met with skepticism due to a combination of politics and concerns about the quality of the original data presented by Russian scientists.

“The original data by which the Russians licensed their vaccine for widespread use was based on 76 people, a very small number, and also there wasn’t a lot of transparency in their licensing regulation process,” said Deonandan. “That got a lot of ethicists concerned about what other kinds of steps were skipped if, in fact, the regulation process was a bit muddled.

” I think we’re at the point now where the proof is in the pudding and the vaccine does seem to be quite effective.”

Sputnik V works similarly to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, using what’s known as a viral vector approach that uses an adenovirus to deliver the coronavirus spike protein.

“It’s different from AstraZeneca in that AstraZeneca uses a chimp viral vector and the Russians use a human viral vector. But it seems to be quite effective,” said Deonandan.

“I don’t think we will end up using it because we have other options now, but I’m glad this vaccine is making its way around the world.”

Both of the Chinese vaccines simply inject an inactivated coronavirus into the body.

“What they’ve done is they take the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus and made it inactive, unable to replicate using chemical means, and that is injected into the person and that causes the immune response,” Deonandan explained. “The thing about inactivated virus vaccines is that they tend not to be as long-lived with the immune response and often need a bigger dose to get that immune response.”

The efficacy rates for the vaccines manufactured in China are ” all over the map,” Deonandan says. Some studies have shown an efficacy rate of 50 per cent, while others say it’s closer to 90 per cent.

Deonandan says that until researchers can figure out how to combine and access that data, it will be difficult to get those vaccines licensed​ in Canada.

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