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Russia’s Sh*##y Vaccine.

Yeah, I went there. Whaddayagunnado, Vlad?

So here’s the story as told by Derek Lowe of In The Pipeline.

Russia offered their Sputnik vaccine to Brazil. Shipped it out to them. Anvisa, the Brazilian equivalent of the CDC or FDA needed to test it before approving it for use. But when they tested the batches that Russia sent them, they found that every one of them was forming plaques of self-replicating adenovirus.

Correction: Russia sent ANVISA the assay results for their batches. So they weren’t trying to hide anything with respect to poor quality control.

What does this mean? Let’s back up a bit. Presently, there are two types of Covid vaccines using two different technologies. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. They’re just straight up genetic material with some lipids and salts. The genetic material is just mRNA that codes for the Covid spike protein. Pretty straightforward and elegant.

The J&J, Astra-Zeneca and Sputnik vaccines are made using an adenovirus. It’s tried and true, old faithful effective technology. The DNA that codes for the Covid spike protein is inserted into a plasmid (a ring of DNA) in the adenovirus and the adenovirus delivers that DNA to your cells where spike protein is made. You get to the same result as Pfizer anf Moderna but the adenovirus route is well known and was probably easier to ramp up production.

The thing with adenovirus is they are grown in HEK cells and their ability to replicate comes from the HEK cells which provide the critical protein for that. In the absence of HEK cells, adenovirus is not supposed to self-replicate because its plasmid is engineered to not make that protein. The mechanism is that you get the adenovirus as the delivery device but the adenovirus itself does not have the capacity to make more of itself and make you sick. (I think they just give you a respiratory infection but there are probably vulnerable populations for whom adenovirus infection could be very serious. Ah yes, I remember seeing something to that effect. Here is the WaPo article from 2019.)

The Sputnik vaccines that were delivered to Brazil, all batches tested, had the ability to self-replicate when they should not. This should have been caught by a QC assay in the processing facility that said, “no, this batch can’t self-replicate, let’s send it out” or “yes, this batch can self-replicate, let’s throw it away”

So, either Russia has abysmal quality control standards or they knowingly sent bad batches to other countries.

I’d be shocked. SHOCKED, to discover that Russia had behaved unethically when it comes to vaccine distribution to other suckers countries.

But wait!

There’s more.

It turns out that the Twitter account for the Russian sovereign wealth fund that has been distributing the vaccine has been calling these findings “fake news” and spreading disinformation about their competitors, especially Pfizer, and no doubt increasing the confidence for all vaccines in the refuseniks.

Nice.

It’s the old first “deny, deny, deny” and then double down and project routine.

Unknown if Brazil knew what it was getting or if only Bolsonaro knew what it was getting… But whatever the case may be, the Russians look bad. They’re either really bad at quality control or they’re just governed by sociopaths.

Pick one.