India is becoming one of the largest centers for manufacturing of Sputnik V vaccine, according to Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s sovereign wealth fund responsible for marketing the Sputnik V vaccine globally.

Speaking to BusinessLine on the sidelines of the 24th St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), likely the first large-scale international in-person event organised by Russia since the beginning of the pandemic, Dmitriev emphasised the importance of close cooperation between Russia and India on thevaccine front.

“India is our strategic partner as far as Sputnik V vaccine is concerned. We even call it a ‘Russian-Indian’ vaccine because India is going to become one of the major manufacturing centers for Sputnik V. Secondly, we are in touch with VK Paul, who chairs the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19, almost daily and we have supplied [millions of doses of] vaccine and will continue to supply more,” said Dmitriev.

SII seeking nod

While Dmitriev refused to comment on reports that Serum Institute of India (SII) is seeking permission to manufacture Sputnik V and has made applications with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI), noting that the details will be shared later on, he said RDIF is currently in talks with a range of manufacturers in India regarding the production of Sputnik V and other Russian vaccines.

According to Jay Verma, Chairman and CEO of Protecti Global, a Dubai-based company, the talks are on for starting manufacturing of one-dose Sputnik Light vaccine as well as EpiVacCorona developed by the Vektor State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology in Russia in India once the new vaccines get Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) approval.

Russia expects the World Health Organisation to approve Sputnik V for its Emergency Use Listing within the next two months, Dmitriev noted. The application for the same has been submitted by Russia in October 2020, but till today the approval has not been granted that has invited criticism from Russian leaders who point out Europe’s bias towards Sputnik V.

So far, only Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been on the WHO list. Currently, technical experts from the WHO as well as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) are doing rounds of reviews of Sputnik V clinical trials.

In May, India envoy to Russia DB Venkatesh Varma said India would be manufacturing around 850 million doses of Sputnik V starting August, and 65-70 per cent of Sputnik V administered globally would be India-made. Sputnik V has so far been approved in 65 countries while 20 companies across 13 countries have permission to manufacture it; of this, six are in India, including Hetero Biopharma, Gland Pharma, Stelis Biopharma, Panacea Biotec, Virchow Biotech and Shilpa Medicare.

Vaccine tourism roll out

Addressing SPIEF panel on vaccines, featuring WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, health ministers of Russia and Israel, the RDIF head announced Russia is also considering vaccinating foreigners, including those coming to the country for tourist purpose, starting from July.

RDIF is in talks with key government bodies in Russia to establish vaccine tourism processes as there is a growing interest in traveling to Russia to get vaccinated with Sputnik V from European countries, said Dmitriev.

“We see significant interest, including from European countries. We believe that the process could be established somewhere in July. We are actively working with several key Russian ministries to create the required ecosystem,” Dmitriev told reporters. He added that the details of the campaign will likely to be unveiled at the end of this month.

When asked about existing vaccination tours to Russia offered by travel agencies in a number countries, including India, he answered that such practices do exist, but should be systemised and legitimised, which is why the government has started working on such a scheme.