In Vaccine Geopolitics, a great game played with the health of Ukrainians


“Russia is pursuing an active policy of aggression, even with vaccines,” said Oleksandr Linchevsky, former deputy minister of health. “It is in Russia’s political interest that Ukraine receives vaccines from elsewhere as late as possible,” because it wants to fill the void with its own vaccine.

Ukraine, with a population of 42 million, is expected to receive eight million doses of the vaccine under the Covax program that supplies low- and middle-income countries that otherwise could not have access to vaccines. But those doses shouldn’t arrive until at least before March. Negotiations for Western shipments later in the year are continuing, Stepanov said.

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Answers to your questions about vaccines

While the exact order of vaccinees can vary by state, most will likely prioritize medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help you.

Life will only return to normal when society as a whole is sufficiently protected against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they will only be able to immunize a few percent of their citizens in the first two months at most. The unvaccinated majority will always remain vulnerable to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show strong protection against the disease. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, as they show only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know whether vaccines also block transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds inside, etc. Once enough people are vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we, as a society, reach this goal, life may start to move closer to something normal by fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will be potentially authorized this month clearly protect people against Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. It remains a possibility. We know that people naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensely as the vaccines are rolled out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will have to consider themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given by injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection will not be different from any you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported serious health problems. But some of them experienced short-lived discomfort, including aches and pains and flu-like symptoms that usually last for a day. People may need to plan a day off or school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and building a powerful response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to stimulate the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is ultimately destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip inside. The cell uses mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any given time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce to make their own proteins. Once these proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules made by our cells can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to resist the enzymes in the cell for a bit longer, so that the cells can make additional viral proteins and elicit a stronger immune response. But mRNA can only last a few days at most before being destroyed.

Prior to President Trump’s executive order banning vaccine exports from the United States, Ukraine was in talks with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to expedite delivery. Although negotiations are continuing, delivery times are being pushed back.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky barely contained his indignation at his country, which finds itself far in the vaccine queue despite its precarious geopolitical position.

Russia has supported a separatist war in two eastern provinces of Ukraine for six years while trying to drive a wedge between Kiev and its western allies. Vaccine policy is playing the Kremlin’s game.

“We are supposed to be like political acrobats to get on a priority list” for vaccines, Zelensky said in an interview last month. The US export ban, he said, “has put Ukraine on the phone.” In a year-end statement to the Ukrainians, Zelensky bitterly wrote that, unfortunately, the “richer” countries would get the vaccines first.

At the end of December, Ukraine accelerated discussions with Sinovac Biotech, a Chinese supplier, announcing on New Year’s Eve an order for 1.9 million doses, for delivery in early February. It is hardly enough, but it remains a geopolitical victory for China, which is a relief when Western countries looked away.


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