Israel to recognize Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine

Israel will allow tourists vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to enter Israel next month, The Jerusalem Post has confirmed. 

The announcement comes only days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and less than a week after an announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office that only travelers inoculated with a vaccine recognized by the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency or the World Health Organization would be able to enter the country.

Sputnik V is not approved by any of these bodies.

The decision, which will go into effect on November 15, was made during a meeting held Tuesday night between Bennett and senior health officials. 

Bennett will be meeting with top health officials again on Wednesday to discuss vaccination, after the FDA’s senior advisory committee on Tuesday night recommended approving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children ages five to 11.

A report by N12 said that travelers who are vaccinated with Sputnik will still need to take a serological test on arrival in the country. The new tourism outline, which goes into effect on November 1, erases the need for fully vaccinated people to be screened for antibodies in Israel.

All travelers are required to take a PCR test within 72 hours before boarding their flight to Israel and on arrival.  

 Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2021.  (credit: SPUTNIK/EVGENY VIYATO/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2021. (credit: SPUTNIK/EVGENY VIYATO/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

Russia had been vying for the approval of its vaccine in Israel since the fall of last year when it announced that its vaccine was 92% effective at protecting against COVID-19, according to interim trial results.

Hadassah-University Medical Center had signed a memorandum of understanding with the country’s sovereign wealth fund, Russian Direct Investment Fund, and the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology, who collaborated on the development and production of the vaccine, to receive 1.5 million doses – but the vaccines were never approved nor brought into the country. 

The vaccine is named Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite, Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite that was launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Russia registered the vaccine for public use in August 2020, the first country to do so, ahead of the start of its large-scale trial in September of that year, which it has since completed. 

Russia applied for approval from the WHO for its vaccine in February 2021 but has not yet received an Emergency Use Listing. 

In September, the WHO said it had suspended the approval process of Sputnik V because the manufacturing process of the shot had not met the necessary standards. Earlier this month, the WHO said that it was still reviewing data about the vaccine.

“As with other candidate vaccines, WHO continues to assess Sputnik V vaccines from different manufacturing sites and will publish decisions on their EUL status when all the data are available and the review is concluded,” the WHO said in a statement on October 5.

Although Israel is not approving Sputnik V, allowing people to travel into Israel with the vaccination as part of its stringent travel outline is a de facto recognition of the jab.

On Monday night, the United States announced its new international travel program, which like Israel’s only accepts WHO-approved vaccines, meaning those inoculated with Sputnik are not accepted. 

Israel’s announcement, however, was anticipated by analysts, who said that the prime minister could allow people vaccinated with the Russian vaccine into the country for diplomatic gain.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to recognize each other’s vaccine certificates and Green Passes.

Michael Edelstein, a professor of population health at Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University, said that he knew Russia was still pushing Israel to validate its shot and that Bennett had discussed the issue with Putin.

“You can imagine that this negotiation is not purely going to be about the effectiveness of the vaccine,” he said. “It is going to be used as a bargaining chip and become part of the diplomatic discussion.”

Since the beginning of this year, Russia has sent millions of its vaccines to emerging countries as part of a “vaccine diplomacy” program, explained Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director and trustee for the Economist Charitable Trust, an independent charity that is meant to leverage the journalistic expertise of The Economist newspaper. 

However, she said that “Despite aggressive media campaigns highlighting Russia’s commitment to coming to the rescue of developing countries, Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has, to date, been a failure.

“Production difficulties have delayed the delivery of second shots of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine, fueling resentment in local populations,” she said. “In Argentina, these delivery delays have led to a bitter diplomatic row between the two governments. In addition, a lack of transparency over clinical data, and doubts around the quality of some batches of the vaccine, have increased hesitancy towards the Russian-made vaccine.”

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