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FIRING LINE: Sputnik V, first or fail?

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

From the Space Race of the Cold War-era to the race to save humanity from this 21st-century pandemic, Russia could not have picked a more auspicious name for its COVID-19 vaccine: Sputnik V. Of course, the first Sputnik, when launched in 1957, was merely a statement of “who rules the world”.

Today, the Sputnik is the vaccine that saves the people of this planet. That’s according to Russian President-for-life Vladimir Putin who approved and declared it the world’s first successful COVID-19 vaccine, completed in roughly half a year since the outbreak began.

And his proof of its efficacy and safety? His daughter inoculated like an unwavering sacrifice at the altar of human trials. “She is feeling well,” Putin was quoted as saying.

International health experts, the World Health Organization included, are critical and skeptical over the rush to roll it out in Russia by October. Yet, it’s no surprise Putin’s most enthusiastic applause came from our own president, who expressed “great trust” in the vaccine.

Duterte had long professed to idolize his Russian counterpart, but never perhaps as impressed as he is now, even offering to be injected with the “Rush-yan” Sputnik in public to prove its safety. It’s no joke. His spokesperson even blurted out the President’s tentative schedule for inoculation in April or May 2021.

But, the fact is, Putin approved the manufacture of Sputnik V, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, ahead of Phase 3 of the clinical development of any vaccine, which generally involves thousands of human trials for 2-4 years. There is no successful vaccine in history that has skipped the minimum 10-year process of discovery research, pre-clinical trials of potential vaccines, safety test, immune response activation test, trials for protection against disease, and the regulatory review and approval.

For all of Mother Russia’s good intentions, Putin seems to be politically motivated to race against the 100 other ongoing research and development programs for a potential vaccine.

I don’t want to be the pin bursting the bubble of people’s hopes for a quick end to this pandemic. But neither do I want to feed false hopes like our beloved President’s wishing the Filipino people a “COVID-free December”.

Perhaps, from the perspective of contributing to a globally-united cause, I defer to the willing and able Filipinos – heroes in their own right – who volunteer to participate in the clinical trials of Sputnik V, which is reported to begin as early as next month.

I shall not harp on my ethical reservations about human trials per se, only because of the extraordinary circumstances that have befallen us all – the sickest of the infected nations in East Asia. Still, I elect to approach this new potential vaccine with the utmost caution, especially for a country as ours that is yet reeling from the stigma of Dengvaxia.

Finally, a piece of history – much for Russia’s being first with Sputnik I orbiting the Earth, it was the US that had the last say in the Space Race 12 years later with Armstrong on the moon. ‘Di nakukuha sa rush ’yan.

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SHORT BURSTS. Birthday greetings to Firing Line reader Ivan Dominique de Castro of Sta. Cruz, Manila… For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at

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