Russian regulators on May 6 approved Sputnik Light, a single-dose version of the country's Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus.
The regulatory approval, which will allow it to be marketed and administered as a separate COVID-19 vaccine, came even though advanced testing to ensure its safety and effectiveness is still ongoing.
The two-dose Sputnik V will remain “the main source of vaccination in Russia,” said Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) CEO Kirill Dmitriev, whose organization bankrolls the Sputnik vaccine.
Sputnik Light will be exported “to our international partners to help increase the rate of vaccinations in a number of countries in the face of the ongoing fight with the pandemic and new strains of coronavirus,” he said.
Dmitriev said in a statement that “the single dose regimen solves the challenge of immunizing large groups in a shorter time, which is especially important during the acute phase of the spread of coronavirus, achieving herd immunity faster.”
Russia faced criticism last year for authorizing Sputnik V before advanced trials had started and for offering it to medical workers while those trials were under way.
But Sputnik V, which has been approved in several countries, overcame initial international skepticism after peer-reviewed results published in the medical journal The Lancet showed it to be safe and 91.6 percent effective against COVID-19.
Russia's own vaccination drive is currently lagging. According to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, 13.4 million people in Russia, or just 9 percent of the country’s 146 million people, had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of May 6. About 6 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
Russia’s official death toll from COVID-19 along with those of several other countries came under question on May 6 in a new estimate by researchers at the University of Washington.
The university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation puts the number of COVID-19 deaths at 6.9 million globally -- more than double that of a widely cited tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The estimate is based on a comparison of pre-pandemic death trends with deaths from all causes during the pandemic adjusted to remove deaths that couldn’t be directly attributed to the virus.
It has long been acknowledged that official government figures likely are undercounts because not all deaths occur in hospitals and because not all COVID-19 deaths can be confirmed by a test.
The University of Washington researchers believe the largest undercounts are in India, which may have close to three times more deaths than the official 221,000, and Russia, which the researchers calculate has had more than five times the 109,000 official government count.
“The one that’s been the most underrecorded is the Russian Federation,” Christopher Murray, director of institute, said.
The data also suggest the U.S. death count is more than 905,000, far higher than the 580,000 estimated deaths in the Johns Hopkins tally.