Healthcare/Biosafety

When Sputnik-Abkhazia Seeks Salvation in Russian Vaccine

26 January, 2021

On January 19, Sputnik-Abkhazia published an article headlined “Russians are still saving everyone” (Русские снова всех спасают). The author of the article strongly criticizes the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and promotes several opinions to argue that this vaccine is not safe. The author claims that the company Pfizer has no experience in creating vaccines and that it was embroiled in scandal in the 1990s after having illegally tested a new antibiotic on minors in Nigeria. According to the article, Pfizer’s vaccine has severe side effects, and although some countries have already reported deaths, local doctors pay no attention to figures. The author cites Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as an alternative, claiming that although it was created using the traditional method, information warfare has been unleashed against it.

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The article published by Sputnik-Abkhazia contains various inaccuracies regarding five issues and aims at sowing distrust against Pfizer’s vaccine. Myth Detector has debunked three false, one manipulative and one partly false claims from the article.

  1. False claim: The company Pfizer has no experience in creating vaccines

The significant impact of Pfizer’s vaccines, including those of its predecessor companies, dates back more than a century. The company was the first to develop a heat-stable, freeze-dried smallpox vaccine. In 1915, the company manufactured one million doses of smallpox vaccine per week. In 1948, the company introduced a combined vaccine for preventing diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis in young children. The company was the first to license oral form of live trivalent poliovirus vaccine in the United States in 1963, substantially contributing to the eradication of polio in the U.S.

Pfizer was the first to license a conjugate-based vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type b in 1998 as well as a diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine in the United States in 1991. The company continued to press forward in the 2000s. It is an incomplete list of its activities. Therefore, the claims that Pfizer has no experience in developing vaccines are false.

  1. False claim: At least 30-40% have suffered adverse reactions to Pfizer’s vaccine

In fact, side effects from Pfizer’s vaccine are quite rare. The results of phase 3 clinical trials showed that the proportion of participants who experienced at least one serious adverse event was 0.6% in a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine recipients’ group, while in a placebo group - 0.5%.

Several countries have already launched vaccination of their populations using the Pfizer vaccine. It is quite normal to have reactions such as redness, swelling or pain on the arm where a patient got the shot. A patient may have some side effects such as fever, chills and tiredness, which are normal signs that your body is building protection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that these side effects should go away in a few days.

Since the Pfizer vaccine has been in use, a few patients had a severe allergic reaction immediately after the injection. One patient in the USA and two Britons even went into anaphylactic shock, associated with reddening of the skin and shortness of breath.

The process of vaccination is quite successful and no serious complications have been reported among 30-40% of vaccinated people, as claimed by Sputnik-Abkhazia.

  1. False claim: Vaccine-related death rates are increasing: 10 and 29 people died in Germany and Norway, respectively

The link between 10 deaths in Germany as well as 29 deaths in Norway and the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has not been confirmed so far. Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute said that they are looking into the deaths of 10 people who passed away soon after having been inoculated against the novel coronavirus disease, noting that the deceased were with antecedent diseases and they died from their main diseases, coinciding in time with the vaccination.

As for the reported deaths in Norway, 13 cases were studied and no causal link could be found with vaccination. Other cases are still in the process of studying and making any preliminary conclusions as if vaccination causes death aims at sowing fear.

  1. Partly false claim: Pfizer tested an antibiotic on minors in Nigeria leaving about 200 people dead

In 1996, when Nigeria was hit by meningitis epidemic, a hundred children were given an experimental oral antibiotic Trovan developed by Pfizer, while a further hundred received ceftriaxone, the “gold-standard” treatment of modern medicine. Five children died after taking Trovan and six – after taking ceftriaxone. But later it was claimed that Pfizer did not have proper consent from parents to use an experimental drug on their children and questions were raised over the documentation of the trial. Legal action filed against the company alleged that some received a dose lower than recommended, leaving many children with brain damage, paralysis or slurred speech. Pfizer had argued that meningitis and not its antibiotic had led to the deaths of 11 children. Ultimately, following a 15-year court dispute, Pfizer paid out USD 175,000 to the families of four of the children each.

  1. Manipulation: British AstraZeneca faced some problems and applied to Gamaleya Research Center for assistance. If not Russian colleagues, the British people would have had to receive Pfizer’s doubtful vaccines.

AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, developed the COVID-19 vaccine independently and went through all three phases of clinical trials. It would be exaggerating to say that without the assistance from the Gamaleya Research Center, the UK would have had to rely on Pfizer’s vaccine and AstraZeneca’s vaccine would not have been used to vaccinate the population because Britain approved the vaccine in late December, whereas Sputnik-AstraZeneca vaccine trials are expected to start in February.

When the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine was announced in late 2020, there was some confusion. The overall efficacy of the vaccine at stopping people developing symptomatic COVID-19, two weeks after the second dose, was 70%. This figure was based on averaging the results from two groups being 62% and 90% protective against developing COVID-19. To make its vaccine more effective, AstraZeneca decided to test a new hybrid vaccine schedule, comprising one dose of its vaccine and one of the Ad26-vector Sputnik V. AstraZeneca and Russian Sputnik V vaccines were both created using the same technology and both are based on adenoviruses. Precisely due to this, the UK company decided to cooperate. AstraZeneca uses the same adenoviruses for its two vaccine doses, while Sputnik V uses two different human adenoviruses – Ad26 and Ad5.

According to the Gamaleya Research Center, it has created a vaccine with an efficacy rate of 91.4 percent. However, it is noteworthy that Russia approved the vaccine before it went through phase 3 clinical trials. The primary results of phase 3 trials, which are based on 78 cases, are known so far. The full details of the third phase trials have yet to be published in a scientific journal.


Prepared by Maiko Ratiani


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