In the last post, I mentioned the Twitter response to the Brazilian rejection of the Gamaleya vaccine. I believe that the official blue-check-marked “Sputnik V” Twitter account is run by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the sovereign-wealth part of the Russian state that is in charge of rolling out the vaccine to different countries. In that case, the Russian Sovereign Wealth Fund needs to clean up its act.
I say that because of their aggressive political marketing. Here’s a tweet from earlier today, all about how countries that are “independent enough” to not only use “Western” vaccines but also the Russian and Chinese ones are doing better in the pandemic. But beyond this, they have also posted tweets about the safety record of their vaccine and others in Hungary, specifically claiming that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has “32x the death rate” and “6x the infection rate” of their own vaccine. That follows up on a tweet claiming that data across several international health sources shows that there is a higher death rate after administration of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as well.
These claims are bullshit. Posting them is a disgrace.
Here’s an analysis by Carl Bergstrom that goes into the details. To summarize, the first column for the international data is summarizing raw death numbers, not adjusted for population. The population-weighted numbers given are total deaths, not vaccine-associated ones: so yes, if someone gets vaccinated and then falls off a cliff, it’s going to be included. No accounting is made for how long any of the vaccines have been administered for. That also means that the differences in who gets the different vaccines in different countries are going to overwhelm the numbers as well. That applies to the Hungarian data as well: it appears that the Pfizer vaccine and others have gone into disproportionately older patients as compared to the Russian one, and that cohort of course has higher all-causes mortality as a background. No less an figure in the mRNA vaccine world than Katalin Karikó noticed this problem and others with the data (that link should take you to a Google Translate page, since I’m assuming that most readers here speak about as much Hungarian as I do). Update: here’s a translation from a native speaker.
What we’re seeing here is a deliberate attempt by the backers of the Sputnik-V vaccine to smear the competition, Pfizer especially. It’s not enough if they succeed – others must fail. This is a vile, destructive tactic that will do nothing but harm, and anyone who actually gave a damn about global health would have nothing to do with it. Promoting your own vaccine on its merits is fine, but spreading fear and doubt about the others like this is disgusting. The Russian Direct Investment Fund is deliberately promulgating lies. They should take down this crude propaganda, and if they don’t, Twitter and other platforms should take it down for them.
Postscript: I fully expect to see the defenders of the current Russian government’s honor – what there is of it – to jump into the comments here and on my Twitter feed. This happens most times anything mildly uncomplimentary about Russian issues appears here, and this post is a lot more uncomplimentary than usual. Come at me. I have a great deal of sympathy for the Russian people, who over the years have managed to make great contributions to humanity while cynically being abused by their leaders, who have too often been a series of despots and thieves.