Australia approves Sputnik V for international travel, paving the way for int’l students’ return

vaccines in Australia
Approved vaccines in Australia now include Russia’s two-dose Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. Source: Kirill Kudryavtse/AFP

Here’s some bright news for the start of the year — approved vaccines in Australia now include Russia’s two-dose Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) made the announcement on Monday, making the Australian government one of the first Western countries to do so. 

The is welcome news for many international students, many of whom were previously barred from entry due to receiving the Sputnik V vaccine. 

“Last week the TGA obtained additional information demonstrating this vaccine provides protection and potentially reduces the likelihood that an incoming traveller would transmit COVID-19 infection to others while in Australia or become acutely unwell due to COVID-19,” it said in a statement. “The supporting information was based on published studies provided to the TGA by the Russian Government with the assistance of the Australian embassy in Moscow.

“The recognition of Sputnik will expand options for the return of international students, travel of skilled and unskilled workers to Australia, and travel by business people and elite sports people to our country,” it added.

Sputnik V joins the list of approved vaccines in Australia

News that Sputnik V has been listed among the approved vaccines in Australia has been well-received by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the Sputnik V vaccine worldwide. “Australia joined over 100 other countries, including most recently Israel and Saudi Arabia, that accept travellers vaccinated with Sputnik V,” CEO Kirill Dmitriev shared

Dmitriev said Sputnik V is “one of the world’s safest and most efficient vaccines” against the coronavirus, “including its Omicron variant.” Russia’s Gamaleya Research Centre said on Tuesday that the vaccine is 75% effective against Omicron

The TGA shared reports that indicated an average efficiency of 89% against symptomatic infection, and 98-100% effectiveness in preventing hospitalisation or death, but that the vaccine’s potency against Omicron was still being studied. 

This comes after the country announced the approval of five additional vaccines for the purposes of international travel. Accepted vaccines include the Coronavac (Sinovac), Covishield (AstraZeneca – Serum Institute of India), BBIBP-CorV for people under 60 years of age on arrival in Australia (Sinopharm China), Covaxin (Bharat Biotech), and Sputnik V (Gamaleya Research Institute). 

At the moment, the single-dose “Sputnik Light” course of the vaccine is not currently recognised by the Australian government. 

Global response to the Sputnik V vaccine

Sputnik V has been met with hesitancy by Russians and global citizens alike. Source: Jorge Bernal/AFP

While Sputnik V joins the list of approved vaccines in Australia, global hesitance to adopt the vaccine remains.

In most countries, Sputnik V is marketed as an alternative to vaccines produced by Western and Chinese pharmaceutical firms. Many Russians themselves are reluctant to take domestically produced vaccines, including Sputnik V. It is likely that this has contributed to the country’s surging coronavirus cases, making it among the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. 

Bloomberg reported that this is a result of a “devastatingly slow pace of inoculation, undermined by a toxic mix of complacency and chronic distrust in authority”. In the EU, officials and nationals alike expressed doubts over its clinical data and safety standards, and indicated that the vaccine is being used as a “geopolitical tool” by Russia, who mainly sold Sputnik V to its allies.

There’s also the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not yet recognised Sputnik V. This was because the country had still not delivered all the information needed for the vaccine’s approval because of differences in regulatory standards. A WHO spokesperson revealed that the relevant documents would be received by the end of the year. 

This is not to say that Western and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines are not faced with similar speculation. Both regulators and citizens have expressed scepticism over the safety and efficacy of almost all vaccines against the virus, with the most significant being hesitancy over taking AstraZeneca due to a perceived risk of blood clots. 

However, reports show that most of Sputnik V’s Western competitors are generally more transparent with regulators, resulting in increased chances of approval.