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Twinning Europe and Asia in Cyberspace

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Authors: Prof. Melda Kamil Ariadno and Prof. Anis H Bajrektarevic

While our troposphere is dangerously polluted, one other space – that of intangible world, created by the interconnected technology– follows the same pattern: a cyberspace. Additionally, our cyberspace becomes increasingly brutalised by its rapid monetisation and weaponisation. It mainly occurs through privacy erosion. How to protect effectively individuals and their fundamental human rights, and how to exercise a right for dignity and privacy?

The EU now offers a model legislation to its Member States, and by its transformative power (spill-over) to the similar supranational projects elsewhere (particularly ASEAN, but also the AU, OAS, SCO, SAARC, LAS, etc.), and the rest of  world.

Rules and regulations to protect personal data do not trigger many sympathies.         The corporate world sees it as an unnecessary deterrent; as a limit to their growth – more to pay and less or slower to yield, innovate and expand. Governments would traditionally wish the rules should apply to every societal stakeholder but themselves. And citizenry by large too frequently behave benevolent, nearly careless whether their data is harvested or safeguarded at all.

However, such legislation is needed today more than ever before. The latest round of technological advancements was rapid, global and uneven. No wonder that in the aftermath of the so-called IT-revolutions, our world suffers from technological asymmetries: assertive big corporations and omnipresent mighty governments on one side and ordinary citizenry on the other. Even in the most advanced democracies today – such as the EU, personal autonomy is at the huge risk: Everyday simple, almost trivial, choices such as what to read, which road to take, what to wear, eat, watch or listen are governed (or at least filtered) by algorithms that run deep under the surface of software and devices. Algoritmisation of ‘will’ is so corrosive and deep that users are mostly unaware of the magnitude to which daily data processing rules over their passions, drives and choices.

Clearly, technology of today serves not only a Weberian predictability imperative – to further rationalise society. It makes society less safe and its individuals less free.

Societies are yet to wake up to this (inconvenient) truth. In the internet age of mobile, global and instant communications, people tend to focus more on the ‘here-us-now’ trends: goods, services, and experiences that the IT offers. Individuals are less interested on the ways in which privacy is compromised by software, its originators and devices – all which became an unnoticed but indispensable part of modern life. Despite a wish of many to grasp and know how data processing and harvesting affects them, population at large yet has no appetite for details.

But, the trend is here to stay – a steady erosion of privacy: bigger quantities of data are harvested about larger number of persons on a daily, if not hourly basis. Corporations and the central state authorities want more data and are less shy in how they obtain and use it.

Prevention of the personal information misuse (PIM) —intended or not—is the main reason the European Union (EU)introduced the new set of provisions, as of May 2018. Hence, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – as the legislation is known – is an ambitious attempt to further regulate digital technology, especially in respect to the private data protection. It is of course in conformity with provisions of both the Universal and European Charter of Human Rights, which hold the protection of human dignity and privacy as an indispensable, fundamental human right.

The intention of legislator behind the GDPR is twofold: to regulate domestically as well as to inspire and galvanise internationally. The GDPR is meant to open a new chapter in the Internet’s history at home, while creating, at the same time, a roadmap for other state and corporate sector actors beyond the EU. The challenge is clear: to reconcile the rights of individuals to data protection with the legitimate interests of business and government.

For the rest of the world, the GDPR should be predictive, inspirational and eventually obligational. Lack of acting now could open a space for the abuse of power – be it for illegitimate corporate or authoritarian gains of the hidden societal actors. In such a negative scenario – on a long run – losers are all. Historically, victimisation of individuals (through constant suspension of liberties and freedoms) ends up in a state or corporate fascism, and that one in a self-destruction of society as whole.

COMPREHENSIVE LEGISLATION AS POWERFUL DETERRENT

The Internet age exposes individuals in an unprecedented ways to the domestic or foreign predatory forces. Everybody is tempted to participate in digital economy or digital social interaction. This cannot go without revealing personal information to large state or non-state entities of local or international workings. If the field is not regulated, the moment such information leaves its proprietor, it can be easily and cheaply stored, analysed, further disseminated and shared without any knowledge or consent of it originator.

So far, neither market forces nor the negative publicity has seriously hindered companies and governments from tapping on and abusing this immense power. Nothing but a bold and comprehensive legislation is efficient deterrent, which stops the worst misuse. Only the legal provisions to protect personal data may serve a purpose of special and general prevention:

Be it in case a local or transnational corporate greed, governmental negligent or malicious official, or the clandestine interaction of the two (such as unauthorised access to personal phone and Internet records, as well as the unverified or inaccurate health and related data used to deny person from its insurance, loan, or work).

While totally absent elsewhere, early European attempts to legislate a comprehensive regulatory system of personal data protection have tired its best. Still, the EU’s Data Protection Directive of 1995 was falling short on several deliverables. (It was partly due to early stage of internet development, when the future significance of cyberspace was impossible to fully grasp and anticipate). Hence, this instrument failed to comprehensively identify the wrongdoings it sought to prevent, pre-empt and mitigate. The 1995 text also suffered from a lack of (logical and legal) consistency when it came to directing and instructing the individual EU member states (EU MS) on how to domesticate data privacy and promulgate it the body of their respective national legislation. Finally, the GDPR solves both of these problems.

This instrument of 2018 clearly stipulates on discrimination combating (including the politically or religiously motived hate-contents), authentication-related identity theft, fraud, financial crime, reputational harm (social networks mobbing, harassments and intimidation). Moreover, the European Commission (EC) has stated that the GDPR will strengthen the MS economies by recovering people’s trust in the security and sincerity of digital commerce, which has suffered lately of a numerous high-profile data breaches and infringements.

However, the most important feature (and a legal impact) of the GDPR is its power of being a direct effect law. This means that individuals can invoke it before the MS courts without any reference to the positive national legislation. That guaranties both speed and integrity to this supranational instrument – no vocatioleagis and no unnecessary domestication of the instrument through national constituencies. Conclusively, the 2018 instrument is further strengthened by an extra-territorial reach – a notion that make is applicable to any entity that operates in the EU, even if entity is not physically situated in the EU.

This practically means that each entity, in every sector and of every size, which processes personal data of the EU citizens, must comply with the GDPR. It obliges governments and their services (of national or sub-national levels); health, insurance and bank institutes; variety of Internet and mobile telephony service providers; media outlets and other social data gathering enterprises; labour, educational and recreational entities – in short, any subject that collects digital information about individuals.

The GDPR further strengthens accountability principle. The state and commercial actors hold direct and objective responsibility for a personal data collecting, storing and processing (including its drain or dissemination). Clearly, this EU instrument strengthens the right for information privacy (as a part of elementary human right – right to privacy) by protecting individuals from misappropriation of their personal data fora harvesting, monetisation or (socio-political) weaponisation purpose.

Namely, the GDPR gives individuals the right to request a transfer of their personal data (account and history information)from one commercial entity to another (e.g. from one bank or phone provider to another). Another right is to request – at short notice and for an unspecified reason – the commercial enterprise to stop both the data collection and the marketing dissemination, or to demand clarification on a marketing methods and nature of services provided. This instrument also offers individuals the right to request that their personal data are deleted (being zipped and sent back to its proprietor beforehand) – as stipulated in art.17 (the right to be forgotten).

The GDPR calls upon all operating entities to hire a data protection officer as to ensure full compliance with the new rules. It also invites all data collecting entities to conduct impact assessments – in order to determine scope frequency, outreach and consequences of personal data harvesting and processing. (For example, if certain entity wished to introduce biometric authentication for its employees and visitors entering daily its premises, it would need at first to run an assessment – a study that answers on the necessity and impact of that new system as well as the exposures it creates and possible risk mitigation measures.)

The GDPR obliges every entity that gathers data to minimise amount and configuration of personal data they harvest, while maximizing the security of that data. (For instance, if the auto dealer or travel agency requires potential customers to fill out the form to request a price quote, the form can ask only for information relevant to the product or services in question.)

The new legislation also mandates data gathering entities to notify the authorities – without any delay – whenever they suspect or witness a personal data breach. Conclusively, the GDPR obliges entities to present the public with clean and through information about the personal data they harvest and process—and clearly why they do so.

On the sanction side, the GDPR supports the regulators with new enforcement tools, including the norm setting, monitoring of and enforcement of compliance. For a non-compliance, the instrument prescribes steep fines.

To answer adequately the accountability standards enacted by this EU legislation will certainly invite large data gathering entities to bear significant investments. However, for the sake of credibility outreach and efficiency, they will have stimuli to introduce the new procedures and systems within the EU, but also beyond – wherever their operations are present. Complementary to it, the GDPR stipulates that if an entity transfers personal data out of the EU, it must safeguard that the data is handled in the new location the same way like within the EU. By this simple but far-reaching and effective spill over notion, the standards embodied by the GDPR will be delivered to the rest of the world. Hence, this instrument is not (only) an inner code of conduct that brings an outer appeal; it is a self-evolving and self-replicating standard of behaviour for our common (digital) future.

ASEAN, INDO-PACIFIC, ASIA

It is obvious that the stipulations of the GDPR would serve well interests of Republic of Indonesia (RI). That is actually in line with a very spirit of the 1945 Constitution, which obliges the state to protect, educate and prosper the Indonesian people. This supreme state act clearly proclaims that the respecting individual personal data is resting upon the two principles of the Pancasila. Namely these of; Fair and Civilized Humanity. Mutual grant and observance of everyone’s elementary rights is an essence of freedom and overall advancement of society.

The government, with the mandate of its authority to protect the public (public trust doctrine), must manage the personal data fairly and accountably. The GDPR also encourages the formation of an independent personal data protection supervisory institution so that it can correct the policies and rules of the bureaucracy and state administration to act accordingly in managing the personal data of the population. Moreover, every democratic government should be more proactive in protecting society when comes to the management of the personal data of its residents.

Interestingly, the Indonesian legislation already has instruments that follow notion of the GDPR. Thus, the Law No. 11 on Information and Electronic Transactions of 2008 (by a letter of its article 2) emphasizes the principle of extra-territorial jurisdiction. (In this particular case, it is related to the cross-border transactions. Indonesia should always safeguard its national interests: the RI jurisdiction stretches on any legal action that apply in Indonesia and/or carried out by Indonesian citizens. But it also applies to legal actions carried out outside of Indonesian jurisdiction by Indonesian citizens or a foreigner legally residing in RI, or Indonesian legal entities and foreign legal entities that produce legal effects in Indonesia.

This of course assumes the very nature of a use of Information Technology for Electronic Information and Electronic Transactions, which can be cross-territorial and even universal. What is assumed by this Law as “harming the interests of Indonesia” goers beyond pure national economic interests, protecting strategic data, national dignity, defense and security, the state of sovereignty, citizens, and Indonesian legal entities.)

When comes to the Right to be Forgotten (Right for Privacy and Right for Dignity), Indonesia must see it as a principle of real protection that is in the best interests of data owners. Further on, such a right should be strengthened by the principle of ‘without undue delay’, as to avoid the administrative obligation to request a court decision to uphold the right. On a long run, it will surely benefit businesses far more than the personal data originators themselves.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

In line with the Right to Portability Data elaborated by the GDPR, Indonesia also needs to closer examine the EU instruments. Hence, the EU Regulation No.910 / 2014 concerning electronic identification, authentication and trust services (eIDAS) offers an idea how to harmonize the provision of digital identity and personal data in realm of electronic communications.(Electronic identification and authentication is a technology process that has an economic value. Such a business opportunity should be reconciled with a safety and security standards when comes to use of and traffic with of personal data for commercial interests.)

Regarding security, Indonesia must immediately have a clear policy on Cryptography to protect personal data. Cryptography is a double-use process; it can be utilised for civilian purposes, but it can also be used for the vital national interests, such as defense and security. Therefore, privacy and cybersecurity protection is a complementary concept of protection. Holistic approach strengthens the both rights of individuals as well as protection of national interests, rather than it ever conflicts one over the other.

Finally, the ASEAN Declaration of Human Rights in its article 21 stipulates that the protection of personal data is elementary part of Privacy. As one of the founding members, a country that even hosts the Organisation’s HQ, Indonesia must observe the notions of this Human Rights Charter. That is the additional reason why RI has to lead by example.

The EU’s GDPR clearly encourages a paradigm shift within the public services and government administration services on national, subnational and supranational level for all the ASEAN member states. It is to respect the fundamental freedoms and liberties, a quality that will shield population from random and ill-motivated arbitrary judgments of individual rights under the pretext of public interest.

Indonesia and ASEAN can take a lot of learning from the dynamics of the EU’s regulation of GDPR and e-IDAS as to its own benefit – to foster its own security and to elevate a trust in regional e-commerce within the ASEAN economic zone. Since the ASEAN (if combined) is the 4th largest world economy, this is a call of future that already starts now. After all the EU and ASEAN – each from its side of Eurasia – are twin grand projects of necessity, passion and vision.

Naturally, for anyone outside, Indonesia and ASEAN are already seen as the world’s e-commerce hub, of pivotal importance far beyond the Asia-Pacific theatre.

Prof. Melda Kamil Ariadno (SH, LLM, PhD) is a Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law Universitas Indonesia, Jakarta. She is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Law Universitas Indonesia and the Head of Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Universitas Indonesia in 1992. Then, she received both her LL.M. and Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1995 and 2011, respectively. She has served as legal expert for several governmental bodies among others the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

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Implementation of virtual reality and the effects in cognitive warfare

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Photo: Lux Interaction/Unsplash

With the increasing use of new technologies in warfare situations, virtual reality presents an opportunity for the domain of cognitive warfare. Nowadays, cognitive skills are treated equally as their physical counterparts, seeking to standardize new innovative techniques. Virtual reality (VR) can be used as a tool that can increase the cognitive capabilities of soldiers. As it is understandable in today’s terms, VR impacts the brain directly. That means that our visual organs (eyes) see one object or one surrounding area, but brain cells perceive and react to that differently. VR has been used extensively in new teaching methods because of the increased probability of improving the memory and learning capabilities of students.

Besides its theoretical teaching approach and improvement of learning, VR can be used systematically towards more practical skills. In medicine for example students can have a full medicine lesson on a virtual human being seeing the body projected in 3D, revolutionizing the whole field of medicine. If that can be used in the medical field, theoretically it will be possible to be used in combat situations, projecting a specific battlefield in VR, increasing the chances of successful engagement, and reducing the chance of casualties. Knowing your terrain is equally important as knowing your adversary.

The use of VR will also allow us to experience new domains relating to the physical health of a person. It is argued that VR might provide us with the ability to effectively control pain management. Since VR can stimulate visual senses, then it would be safe to say that this approach can have higher effectiveness in treating chronic pain, depression, or even PTSD. The idea behind this usage is that the brain itself is already powerful enough, yet sometimes when pain overwhelms us we tend to lose effectiveness on some of our senses, such as the visual sense. An agonizing pain can blurry our vision, something that we cannot control; unless of course theoretically, we use VR. The process can consist of different sounds and visual aids that can trick the mind into thinking that it is somewhere that might be the polar opposite of where it is. Technically speaking, the mind would be able to do that simply because it works as a powerful computer, where our pain receptors can override and actually make us think that we are not in such terrible pain.

Although the benefits of VR could be useful for our health we would still need to deal with problems that concern our health when we use a VR set.  It is possible that the brain can get overloaded with new information and the new virtual environments. VR poses some problems to some people, regarding the loss of the real environment and creating feelings of nausea or extreme headaches. As a result, new techniques from cognitive psychologists have emerged to provide a solution to the problem. New technologies have appeared that can desaturate colors towards the edge of the headset in order to limit the probability of visual confusion. Besides that, research shows that even the implementation of a virtual nose when someone wears a VR headset can prevent motion sickness, something that our brain does already in reality.

However, when it comes to combatants and the implementation of VR in soldiers, one must think of maybe more effective and fast solutions to eliminate the problems that concern the confusion of the brain. Usage of specific pharmaceuticals might be the key. One example could be Modafinil which has been prescribed in the U.S. since 1998 to treat sleep-related conditions. Researchers believe it can produce the same effects as caffeine. With that being said, the University of Oxford analyzed 24 studies, where participants were asked to complete complex assignments after taking Modafinil and found out that those who took the drug were more accurate, which suggests that it may affect higher cognitive functions.

Although some of its long-term effects are yet to be studied, Modafinil is by far the safest drug that can be used in cognitive situations. Theoretically speaking, if a long exposure to VR can cause headaches and an inability to concentrate, then an appropriate dose of Modafinil can counter the effects of VR. It can be more suitable and useful to use on soldiers, whose cognitive skills are better than civilians, to test the full effect of a mix of virtual technology and pharmaceuticals. VR can be a significant military component and a simulation training program. It can provide new cognitive experiences based on foreign and unknown terrains that might be difficult to be approached in real life. New opportunities arise every day with the technologies, and if anyone wanted to take a significant advantage over adversaries in the cognitive warfare field, then VR would provide a useful tool for military decision-making.

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Vaccine Equity and Beyond: Intellectual Property Rights Face a Crucial Test

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The debate over intellectual property rights (IPRs), particularly patents, and access to medicine is not new. IPRs are considered to drive innovation by protecting the results of investment-intensive R&D, yet arguably also foster inequitable access to affordable medicines.

In a global public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic, where countries face acute shortages of life-saving vaccines, should public health be prioritized over economic gain and the international trade rules designed to protect IPRs?

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), to which all 164 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are a party, establish minimum standards for protecting different forms of IPRs. 

In October 2020, India and South Africa – countries with strong generic drug manufacturing infrastructure – invoked WTO rules to seek a temporary waiver of IPRs (patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and industrial designs) on equipment, drugs, and vaccines related to the “prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.” A waiver would mean that countries could locally produce equipment and vaccines without permission from holders of IPRs. This step would serve to eliminate the monopolistic nature of IPRs that give exclusive rights to the holder of IPRs and enable them to impose procedural licensing constraints.

Brazil, Japan, the European Union (EU), and the United States (US) initially rejected the waiver proposal. That stance changed with the rise of new COVID-19 mutations and the associated increase in deaths, with several countries facing a public health crisis due to vaccine supply shortages. The position of many states began shifting in favor of the India-South Africa proposal, which now has the backing of 62 WTO members, with the US declaring support for the intent of the temporary waiver to secure “better access, more manufacturing capability, more shots in arms.” Several international bodies, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have voiced support.

Some countries disagree about the specific IPRs to be waived or the mechanisms by which IPRs should be made available. The EU submitted a proposal to use TRIPS flexibilities such as compulsory licensing, while others advocate for voluntary licensing. The TRIPS Council is conducting meetings to prepare an amended proposal to the General Council (the WTO’s highest-level decision-making body in Geneva) by the end of July 2021.

The crisis in India illustrates the urgency of the situation. India produces and supplies Covishield, licensed by AstraZeneca; and Covaxin, which is yet to be included on the WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL). Due to the devastating public health crisis, India halted its export of vaccines and caused a disruption in the global vaccine supply, even to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program. In the meantime, the world’s poorest nations lack sufficient, critical vaccine supplies.

International law recognizes some flexibility in public health emergencies. An example would be the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health in 2001, which, while maintaining the commitments, stresses the need for TRIPS to be part of the wider national and international action to address public health problems. Consistent with that, the body of international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), protects the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

But as we race against time, the current IPR framework may not allow for the swift response required. It is the rigorous requirements before a vaccine is considered safe to use under Emergency Use Authorizations and procedural delays which illuminate why IPR waivers on already approved vaccines are needed. Capitalizing on the EUL’s approved vaccines that have proven efficacy to date and easing IPR restrictions will aid in the timely supply and access of vaccines.

A TRIPS waiver may not solve the global vaccine shortage. In fact, some argue that the shortages are not an inherent flaw in the IP regime, considering other supply chain disruptions that persist, such as the ones disrupting microchips, pipette tips, and furniture. However, given that patent licensing gives a company a monopoly on vaccine commercialization, other companies with manufacturing capacity cannot produce the vaccine to scale up production and meet supply demands.

Neither does a temporary waiver mean that pharmaceutical companies cannot monetize their work. States should work with pharmaceuticals in setting up compensation and insurance schemes to ensure adequate remuneration.

At the College of Law at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, our aim is to address today’s legal challenges with a future-oriented view. We see COVID-19 as a case study in how we respond to imminent and existential threats. As global warming alters the balance of our ecosystem, threats will cascade in a way that is hard to predict. When unpredictable health emergencies emerge, it will be human ingenuity that helps us overcome them. Even the global IP regime, as a legal system that regulates ideas, is being tested, and should be agile enough to respond in time, like the scientists who sprang into action and worked tirelessly to develop the vaccines that will soon bring back a semblance of normal life as we know it.

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Sputnik V in the International Arena

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Over a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic in March 2020, the disease is far from under control. Although global case rates on the whole have declined, 15 countries remain near or at the peak of their infection curve. Even countries well below their peak daily infection rates – such as the United Kingdom and Morocco – recently have witnessed an uptick in cases. Just this summer, the virus’ global death toll surpassed 4 million. Fortunately, scientists’ efforts to develop vaccines against COVID-19 have been fruitful: 16 vaccines have been either authorized for emergency use or fully approved. Russia’s Sputnik V is one of the most effective of them, yet one of the most controversial as well.

An important tool in humankind’s fight against the pandemic, Sputnik V is being overlooked by western powers on political grounds.

Sputnik V: controversy and advantages

Much of the controversy surrounding the Gamaleya Institute’s vaccine in western media and political discourse stems from the details surrounding Sputnik V’s approval. Russia’s Ministry of Health issued a registration certificate for the vaccine on August 11, 2020, thus making Sputnik V the world’s first vaccine to be granted regulatory approval for use against COVID-19. Instead of igniting international celebration, this development was met largely with skepticism as many considered the move premature. Typically, vaccines undergo extensive Phase 3 trials before government authorization for use. Sputnik V’s Phase 3 trials, however, did not begin until September 2020, after the vaccine had been registered. Since then, the Russian Ministry of Health’s unorthodox approach to approving the vaccine has been weaponized against Sputnik V.

Western media has also repeatedly called into question Sputnik V’s efficacy and safety. A study in the respected, peer-reviewed medical journal the Lancet, however, found that Sputnik V has an efficacy rate of 91.6% and is low-risk. Although a group of scientists raised concerns about the study’s integrity citing lack of transparency, no major scientific studies demonstrating that Sputnik V’s efficacy is significantly lower than reported have been published to date. Respected western media sources, such as the New York Times and the BBC, cite the Lancet’s figure when reporting on Sputnik V’s efficacy. Meanwhile, a report by the Argentinian Ministry of Health found that Sputnik V is one of the safest vaccines widely used in Argentina. As summarized in the Lancet: “the development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency. But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19.”

Regardless of such controversy, the vaccine has several key advantages – namely its efficacy, affordability, and transportability. Sputnik V is one of only three vaccines globally with an efficacy of over 90% – the other two being Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Running at less than $10 per dose on international markets, Sputnik V is the cheapest vaccine in this efficacy range. For comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine runs between $14.50 and $20.00 on international markets, while Moderna’s vaccine sells for between $18.00 and $33.00 a dose. Sputnik V is also much easier to transport than its U.S./German counterparts. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines must be stored at -70.0°C and -20.0°C respectively, whereas Sputnik V must be kept at a temperature range from 2 to 8°C, meaning that it can be stored in conventional refrigerators. This makes delivering the vaccine notably easier, especially to remote areas. Thus, Sputnik V is poised to make an important contribution to the global inoculation campaign.

Hurdles and victories in the international arena

Russia’s frontrunner vaccine has experienced a mix of hurdles and victories in the international arena. The biggest hurdles are regulatory in nature. For example, one major obstacle preventing the vaccine’s distribution is that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – the EU agency responsible for authorizing and evaluating medicines – has not yet approved Sputnik V. The EMA is still undergoing its rolling revue of the vaccine, and it appears that approval is unlikely to be granted until September at the earliest. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi recently raised the possibility that Sputnik may never get the EMA’s approval, casting further doubt on the vaccine’s future in Europe. The EMA’s regulatory hesitancy towards Sputnik V has prevented major EU players, such as Germany and France, from buying millions of doses of the vaccine.

Sputnik V similarly has not yet been cleared for Emergency Use Listing by the WHO. The UN agency found production violations at the Sputnik V manufacturing site in Ufa during a June examination. Although the WHO’s concerns have since been addressed according to Russian Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, the incident has further put on hold the Russian Direct Investment Fund’s (RDIF) commitment to supply the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund with 220 million doses of Sputnik V. In a similar vein, the RDIF applied for Sputnik V to participate in COVID-19 vaccine access program COVAX earlier this year. Discussions with the Vaccine Alliance Gavi regarding Sputnik V’s inclusion in the COVAX Facility’s Portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines, however, are still ongoing.

Although Sputnik V’s lack of EMA and WHO approval has hampered its international rollout, the ongoing authorization process has not eliminated the vaccine’s global relevance. In fact, the Russian vaccine is currently authorized for emergency use in nearly 70 countries and being used in 45. Two EU member states, Hungary and Slovakia, even have begun inoculating their citizens with Sputnik V without a greenlight from the EMA. Meanwhile, India and Turkey have ordered 250 million and 50 million doses of the vaccine, respectively. One thing is clear: Sputnik V is in high demand internationally despite the regulatory hurdles and controversies it faces. Trust in the Russian vaccine also remains markedly high notwithstanding these challenges. A poll conducted by British market research firm YouGov during February and March of this year found that, of participants who had a preference, 54.0% trusted Russia to produce a vaccine and 33.2% preferred to be vaccinated with Sputnik V. According to the survey, Russia and the United States are tied for the most trusted vaccine producing country, and Sputnik V is the second most preferred vaccine after Pfizer-BioNTech, which 36.6% of respondents favored. The survey featured respondents from the following 9 countries, collectively accounting for 25% of the global population: India; Brazil; Mexico; the Philippines; Vietnam; Argentina; Algeria; the UAE; and Serbia.

Sputnik V has been particularly successful in Latin America, a core region of the United States’ sphere of influence. Repeated polling has shown that Sputnik V enjoys high levels of confidence in Latin American countries, especially Argentina and Peru. The Russian vaccine got an early start in the region when on December 29, 2020, Argentina became the first Latin American country to administer the Sputnik V vaccine to its citizens. Mexico followed suit on February 24 and Nicaragua on March 2, 2021. To the surprise of many observers, on June 4 Brazil joined the list of countries that have approved Sputnik V.

Unfortunately, alongside the success Sputnik V has experienced in Latin America, the vaccine has also encountered a substantial challenge: supply shortages. Both Mexico and Argentina are currently facing shortages of Sputnik V’s second dose – and the problem is not confined to the region. Luckily, Russia’s strategy for eliminating supply shortages not only promises to see more people vaccinated, but also provides an opportunity for Russia to collaborate with its international partners: the country will manufacture vaccines abroad. Starting in July, 5 to 6 million doses of Sputnik V are set to be produced outside of Russia per month. Manufacturing countries include India, South Korea, and Brazil. The Argentine laboratory Richmond produced its first half million doses on June 18. The data sharing and collaboration necessary to manufacture Sputnik V abroad have the potential to increase Russia’s soft power in partner countries.

The other major players

It is crucial to note that Russia’s Sputnik V is only one piece in the puzzle of fighting COVID-19. Although an in-depth review of every country’s current approach to vaccine policy is beyond the scope of this article, a brief overview of the major vaccine providers’ – the United States, the United Kingdom, and China – global vaccine distribution is in store.

Unlike Russia, whose approach to vaccine distribution has been global facing since Sputnik V’s development, the United States initially favored domestic distribution and stockpiling of American vaccines. The Biden Administration has since turned course. The U.S. recently pledged to share 80 million U.S. vaccine doses by the end of June and to purchase 500 million additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for lower-income countries over the next year. Pfizer-BioNTech is currently being distributed in 105 countries, Moderna in 55, and Johnson&Johnson in 27.

The United Kingdom’s Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being used in 178 countries, making it the most widely-used COVID-19 vaccine to date. Although evidence that the vaccine is linked to blood clots put a rut in its distribution, the vaccine is performing well internationally. Meanwhile, China’s Sinopharm-Beijing and Sinovac vaccines are being used in 40 and 32 countries, respectively. China has favored international distribution of its vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic and has shipped more vaccines abroad than any other country. The vaccines referenced in this article – among others – have collectively led to 22.2% of the world’s population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Conclusion

Western, especially American, media has portrayed Sputnik V in an overwhelmingly negative light. The Russian vaccine is represented more as a political tool than a health solution. Hiccups in the road to Sputnik V distribution are cited as evidence that the vaccine is not to be trusted. This approach to Sputnik V is fundamentally flawed. Regulation and safety inspections are crucial to safe vaccination efforts; finger-pointing and name-calling are not. Ultimately, vaccination should take precedence over politics. Alongside other vaccines, Sputnik V will propel us into a post-pandemic world.

Above all else, Sputnik V is a highly efficacious vaccine against COVID-19. When Sputnik V successfully performs its function – safely preventing vaccinated people from contracting and dying from the virus – a growth in vaccinated individuals’ trust of Russia will organically follow. This happy side effect undoubtedly has the potential to promote Russia’s image abroad and increase the country’s soft power. But even if Russia’s political gains from Sputnik V turn out to be small, humankind’s gains in lives saved will be immeasurable.

From our partner RIAC

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Development3 hours ago

ADB Calls for Just, Equitable Transition Toward Net Zero in Asia and Pacific

Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa today called for countries in Asia and the Pacific to take bold action...

Green Planet4 hours ago

Oil, acid, plastic: Inside the shipping disaster gripping Sri Lanka

It’s visible in satellite images from just off Sri Lanka’s coast: a thin grey film that snakes three kilometres out...

Terrorism6 hours ago

A question mark on FATF’s credibility

While addressing a political gathering, India’s external affairs minister  S. Jaishanker made a startling lapsus de langue “We have been...

Human Rights8 hours ago

UNSC calls for ‘immediate reversal’ of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot decision on Varosha

The Security Council said in a statement released on Friday that settling any part of the abandoned Cypriot suburb of Varosha, “by people other than...

Americas10 hours ago

Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his...

South Asia12 hours ago

Unleashing India’s True Potential

As India strives to unleash its true potential to rise as a global powerhouse, it is tasked with a series...

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