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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 4.4 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, as of August 2021. While vaccines from companies like Moderna and Pfizer are among the most popular choices in the United States, many other companies around the world have worked tirelessly to create safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines. Sputnik V is a COVID-19 vaccine that’s been shown to be up to 91.8 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, including its effectiveness, side effects, availability, and more.

Sputnik V, officially known as Gam-COVID-Vac, is an adenovirus-based vaccine created by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V uses a modified version of two different adenoviruses to create immunity against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Adenoviruses cause respiratory, flu-like illnesses, and there are over 60 types.

Similar to other vaccines such as Pfizer, Sputnik V is administered in two doses, given 21 days apart. According to results from 2021 clinical trials, Sputnik V is up to 91.8 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

In the United States, all vaccines must go through a rigorous development process before being approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

According to the FDA, vaccine development begins with the exploration and testing of potential compounds that can be used to prevent or treat a certain disease. This initial research and testing phase can include testing on cells or animals, and afterward, clinical development begins.

At the clinical development stage, a vaccine must go through three phases of testing before it can be reviewed for approval:

  • Phase I. During phase I, the vaccine is tested on small groups of people.
  • Phase II. During phase II, the vaccine is tested on larger groups of people who are the intended recipients of the vaccine.
  • Phase III. During phase III, the vaccine is administered to thousands of people and clinical testing is performed for safety and effectiveness.

After Phase III trials prove a vaccine is both safe and effective, it then enters the approval process. The vaccine approval process includes:

  • applications
  • inspections
  • additional testing

Only after a new vaccine has completed every step of the development and approval process can it enter the market for distribution in the United States.

As you can see, this lengthy process means that it can take years for a vaccine to receive approval for distribution in the United States — especially if the vaccine is from another country, which is the case for Sputnik V.

In order to understand how the Sputnik V vaccine works, it’s helpful to first understand how SARS-CoV-2 actually infects the body.

When the SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the body, it attaches to human cells using proteins called spike proteins on its outer surface. After binding to the cell via these spike proteins, the virus can then change its structure and enter the cell. Once SARS-CoV-2 is inside the cell, it begins to reproduce.

Sputnik V is a vaccine that contains two different adenovirus vectors, known as rAd26 and rAd5, which have been modified to contain the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

Adenoviruses are a family of viruses commonly associated with illnesses such as the common cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and more.

When the vaccine enters the body, the adenovirus vectors within the vaccine enter the cells and recreate the spike protein found on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As soon as the cell recognizes this foreign spike protein, the immune system kicks in and begins to make antibodies against the virus.

After vaccination, the body will have built a natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2 without ever having encountered the virus. In turn, this helps the cells more easily recognize and protect against future infection from the real virus.

In February 2020, the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology released the results from phase III clinical trials of Sputnik V.

During the clinical trials, a total of 19,866 participants from 25 hospitals were given two doses of either the vaccine or a placebo. According to the results, Sputnik V is 91.6 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. In people ages 60 and older, the effectiveness of the vaccine rises to 91.8 percent.

Unfortunately, research on the effectiveness of Sputnik V against COVID-19 variants, including the Delta variant, is limited. However, a recent study found that Sputnik V may show less effectiveness against certain mutations within the Delta variant, although more research is still needed in this area.

Pros of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine

  • Sputnik V clinical trials have shown that the tolerability of the vaccine matches other vector vaccines that have been produced.
  • Sputnik V can be produced in a freeze-dried formulation, which means that the vaccine can be transported without requiring constant refrigeration.
  • While there are some concerns about antibody levels after full vaccination, the efficacy is similar to other COVID-19 vector vaccines on the market.

Cons of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine

  • Some scientists are concerned that the variability of antibody and T-cell levels in trials may make it difficult to figure out how effective Sputnik V actually is.
  • Some researchers are concerned that previous immune system response to the adenoviruses within the vaccine may affect vaccine efficacy.
  • There have also been some concerns about the transparency within clinical trials and the standards of quality surrounding Sputnik V.
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Sputnik V is a combined vector vaccine, which means it uses inactivated viruses called vectors. These vectors recreate the necessary SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins to produce an immune system response.

Unlike other types of vaccines, such as those that use inactivated viruses, Sputnik V does not contain any form of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Instead, it relies on DNA from another modified virus to give the cells enough information to produce natural immunity via antibodies and other immune cells.

Other notable vector vaccines on the market include the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine and the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Sputnik V is considered a vector vaccine, while Pfizer and Moderna are both considered mRNA-based vaccines. Both vector and mRNA-based vaccines use similar techniques to deliver important information into the cells. However, there is one key difference between the two types of vaccines:

  • Vector vaccines. These vaccines use viral vectors to deliver spike protein DNA into the cells.
  • mRNA vaccines. These vaccines use mRNA to enter the cells and create the spike protein directly.

As you can see, both types of vaccines use some form of genetic material — whether DNA or mRNA — to tell the cells exactly how to create the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins.

Warning signs for complications from a COVID-19 vaccine

Currently, the FDA has authorized three COVID-19 vaccinations for emergency use in the United States: the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

While all three vaccines have been cleared as safe and effective methods of preventing COVID-19, there are potential side effects. COVID-19 vaccine side effects are usually minor and may include:

  • injection site pain, redness, or swelling
  • fever
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • nausea
  • muscle aches
  • swollen lymph nodes

In rare cases, more serious complications can occur after vaccination, and may include:

According to the CDC, only the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been associated with the risk of blood clots and low platelets. However, this risk is still low, and it’s generally only a concern in women ages 18 to 49.

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Sputnik V is a combined vector vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia. It has been authorized for use in 69 countries worldwide. In clinical trials, Sputnik V was shown to be up to 91.8 percent effective in protecting against COVID-19.

When compared with other vaccines on the market, Sputnik V is considered another safe and effective vaccine option in the worldwide fight against COVID-19.