Friday, June 21, 2024

Mexico’s speedy approval of Sputnik V raises questions

When my daughter was born, her father and I made sure to take her to all of her health-related appointments. She had a checkup with her pediatrician every month for the first year, and we took her to our local health center promptly for each vaccine and its corresponding stamp in her social security booklet.

Like most babies, and most kids, she didn’t love getting shots. She’d cry for a few minutes, of course, but was overall easygoing in comparison to other kids I’d seen thrash about and try to escape. Her father practically cried with her for every injection, but I remained stoically unmoved by their temporary distress.

It’s not that I was cold; I’d of course comfort her and do whatever else I could to make her feel better. It’s just that I never felt even an inkling of regret about her getting those injections; in fact, I was and am grateful for them. When she was older and could speak enough to try to convince me not to take her or to put them off, I did and do reply that I would much rather her get an uncomfortable shot than die of a preventable disease.

I make sure she receives all of her vaccines for the same reason I insist that she always wear her seatbelt: because I want the most precious person in my life to be as reasonably protected as possible.

Having read about Mexico’s deal with Russia for their Sputnik V vaccine, as well as all of the secrecy surrounding it, I find myself with tilted head and narrowed eyes toward a vaccine for the first time in my life.

My reasons for wariness, I’ll admit, include things that technically have nothing to do with vaccines: proven election interference in my home country and others as well as the coordinated manipulation of countless individuals through made-up social media accounts that played the algorithms to their advantage (and away from actual facts) come to mind.

Even if you think Russia is completely innocent regarding those accusations, as they’ve repeatedly insisted that they are, or you simply think that one thing has nothing to do with the other, there are still some unanswered questions regarding the Sputnik V vaccine in Mexico.

First, Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell was dispatched to Argentina to learn what he could about the Russian vaccine. While he himself claimed that he was not able to see phase 3 trial results, the Associated Press reported that he was given copies of them by his Argentine counterparts. Let that sink in: copies. Have any of you ever been able to get anything bureaucratic done with just copies of something?

The Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Cofepris) then all but rubber-stamped the vaccine for use in Mexico without an application for approval having first been submitted, the equivalent of a teacher giving a generous grade to an exam that hasn’t yet been taken. The application, if it ever appears, was guaranteed approval before it was even filled out.

Y’all. Have you ever heard of any Mexican bureaucratic agency saying, “Oh, just wave it on through; we can settle the paperwork later; it’s fine.”

Perhaps I am being unfair. I recognize my prejudice, and while I think my and the general scientific community’s wariness is justified, I’d like nothing more than to give the full benefit of the doubt in this case, as vaccines against Covid-19 are something we desperately need.

Perhaps approval was rushed through because Mexico didn’t want to waste time with its own formalities. Surely, they simply wanted to start vaccinating people right away with whatever vaccines they can get their hands on. This is what I’m hopefully assuming, anyway.

Add to this that the percentage the Russians give for effectiveness of their vaccine has a way of adjusting upwards to top any reports on others that come out, making me doubt the seriousness of the science behind it or at least the integrity with which those numbers are reported. The obvious bravado and one-upmanship make me leery; I’m concerned that more attention and importance is being placed on the optics rather than the actual science. Also, the global scientific community had been waiting for those final results for quite some time (as of Tuesday, they were finally released in The Lancet).

All that said, there are some things we can say in Sputnik V’s favor. First, they started using it on their own population months ago; this is something they surely wouldn’t do if they suspected it would harm them (as I typed that, I mentally stuck my fingers in my mind’s ears, singing a loud “LA-LA-LA” to drown out thoughts of the vast number of political prisoners and poisoned dissidents). So far, it’s been given to medical personnel and teachers.

The history speaks favorably of vaccine integrity as well. The former Soviet Union made vaccine development a priority, so we can’t say they don’t have experience; they do. Russian scientists also have a history of testing a vaccine on themselves, and even their children, before allowing it to be approved for others.

But I keep coming back to this: if there’s nothing to hide, what’s with the hiding?

I hope I’m wrong and that my suspicions are unwarranted because this is what we have. I’m not a purist. Though I’m naturally cautious, I don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But I do believe in throwing caution to the wind when it’s do-or-die time.

In the end, if I’m offered a vaccine, and Sputnik V is the one I’m offered, I’ll take it, as this is no time to be picky.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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