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Coronavirus: Russia's army begins vaccinating 400,000 servicemen against COVID-19

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Russia's army has started a mass anti-coronavirus vaccination campaign which aims to innoculate more than 400,000 armed forces personnel based on an order from President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

"In compliance with the president’s instruction, vaccination of the Armed Forces personnel against the coronavirus infection has begun. Overall, over 400,000 military servicemen will be vaccinated," Shoigu said according to state news agency TASS.

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"To date, over 2,500 servicemen have been vaccinated. The number of those vaccinated will grow to 80,000 by the end of this year," he added.

The minister did not specify whether vaccination will be voluntary for soldiers, many of whom are drafted into the army for compulsory service.

He added that some 500 vaccinated servicemen with high levels of antibodies are involved in research of plasma treatment which has proven "effective in severe cases of the infection".

Russia's defence ministry was involved in the initial stages of developing Sputnik V and its servicemen were among the first volunteers to receive the jab during early stage trials.

Russia had said on Tuesday its locally developed coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, had over 95 percent efficacy and promised it would cost less than $10 per dose on international markets.

"The second interim analysis of clinical trial data showed over 95 percent efficacy for the Sputnik V vaccine 42 days after administering the first dose and 7 days after the second dose," state news agency TASS reported.

Russia's sovereign wealth fund, Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which bankrolled the development of the vaccine said on Tuesday: "The cost of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine for international markets will be less than $10 per dose starting from February 2021, which is less than $20 for the two doses necessary to vaccinate one person."

"Thus, Sputnik V will be two or more times cheaper than foreign vaccines based on mRNA technology with similar efficacy rates. For Russian citizens, vaccination with Sputnik V will be free of charge," RDIF said in its statement.

Other frontrunner vaccine candidates are those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, which cost approximately $20 and $15-25 per dose respectively.

RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev said: "We are ready to start deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine to foreign markets thanks to partnerships with manufacturers in India, Brazil, South Korea, China and four other countries."

The RDIF said production of the dry form of the vaccine has been launched. The dry (lyophilized) form of the vaccine, which is stored at a temperature of +2 to +8 degrees Celsius, enables " the distribution of the vaccine in international markets, as well as expanding its use in hard-to-reach regions, including areas with tropical climates."

"The first foreign deliveries of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine will be made to customers in January 2021 based on existing partnerships with foreign manufacturers. Those customers, who have recently submitted their requests, will be able to receive the first batches of the vaccine starting from March 2021," the RDIF stated.

- With AFP

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