Russia and China’s international vaccine race and Korean cat coronavirus checks

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Welcome to infodemy. We are tracking how disinformation related to the coronavirus crisis is changing our lives. Below are the real and false stories that caught our attention and deserve yours.

The EU is now admitting its vaccination failures. The European Commission President said the bloc underestimated production difficulties, was “too late to approve vaccines” and was overly optimistic about the timetable for introducing the 450 million EU citizens. Public health aside, these delays come at an additional geopolitical price.

Hungary makes itself felt Use of Emergency Decree to expedite approvals for Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who was the first EU head of state to approve both vaccinations, has an eye on the elections in spring 2022 and hopes that a vaccination flash activated by Russia and China will allow the economy to reopen. Orban promised that “the vaccine is not a political problem,” but the swift approvals tie in with his general Euroscepticism and efforts to strengthen ties with Russia and China.

After exploring Hungary, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis Orban’s lead could follow in the certification of Sputnik V prior to approval by the European Medicines Agency. During the visit, Orban spoke directly to Babis and advised him to bypass the EU. He said: “We cannot wait for Brussels.

In Lithuania, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte promised not to use the Russian vaccine. Sputnik V is a geopolitical instrument for Russia and it is “extremely regrettable” that some EU members are certifying the vaccine (link in Lithuanian).

Latin America is another front line of the Sino-Russian vaccination race. Mexico and Argentina are among the countries that are already using Sputnik V, and Venezuela is also awaiting delivery. Peru now opts for the Chinese shot. Still, the governor of the Arequipa region, who wrote to Putin last July asking for 100,000 vaccines, is not giving up. After the Peruvian government decided to join China, Governor Elmer Cáceres held a video conference with a group of intermediary business people who offered to bring Sputnik V into the country. He also assured them that the ice cream vendors’ tricycles would be made available to deliver the vaccine to the farthest corners of his region. “I have been ridiculed and criticized, but we have shown time and again that the Russian vaccine is one of the best in the world,” said Cáceres. Cáceres has already made headlines telling Peruvians that eating llama meat and drinking chlorine would prevent Covid-19.

After months of trying to bypass U.S. sanctions on vaccine access, Iran has now started rolling out Sputnik V. The country is home to the Middle East’s worst Covid 19 outbreak, but says sanctions have affected its ability to purchase drugs through the COVAX program. Now Tehran has announced plans to start making Sputnik V. At the virtual ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the country’s ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali announced that a delegation of 10 Iranian pharmaceutical officials had already visited Russia to oversee the manufacturing process. The head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration confirmed the deal, which he described as a “win-win game,” and the beginning of an exciting new relationship between the two countries. The Iranian state media are already talking about the country becoming a “hub” for other Russian drugs.

Suspicion of the Russian vaccine is widespread among Iranian telegram groups. It was accelerated last week by an interview broadcast on BBC Persian in which Noraladin Pirmoazzen, a surgeon and former lawmaker, attacked both Sputnik V and Pfizer’s vaccines, saying it takes at least four years to produce a safe vaccination. This false claim is a favorite among anti-Vaxxers, and in a country where Pfizer vaccines don’t exist, it turns against Sputnik V. A peer-reviewed study in the Lancet last week shows that despite Russia’s cornerstones and deficiencies Transparency seems to be the shot safe and effective.

Have you tested your pets for the coronavirus? If you live in South Korea you can. The Seoul local government offers Covid-19 tests for dogs and cats who have been exposed to infected people and who have symptoms such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. The program comes after a kitten contracted the virus last month – the first reported case in animals in the country. Pets that test positive must be isolated at home or, if their owners cannot take care of them, sent to government-run facilities. The South Korean kitten is not the first animal to contract the virus. Although this is relatively rare, pets have been infected around the world, as have lions and tigers in zoos.

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As always, we’ll be following this and more on and on our weekly Coda Currents podcast.

I wish you a nice weekend and see you next Friday.
Natalia Antelava

The story you just read is a small piece of a complex and an ever-changing plot that we follow as part of our reporting. These overarching storylines – whether the disinformation campaigns that fuel the war on truth or the new technologies that fuel growing authoritarianism – are the crises that Coda tirelessly covers with a unique focus. But we can’t do it without your help. Support journalism that stays up to date. Coda Story is a 501 (c) 3 US non-profit organization. Your contribution to Coda Story is tax deductible.

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