Israel expected to recognize Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine

Travelers would be required to take a PCR and an antibody test on entry to the country.

A healthcare worker shows an ampule with the Sputnik V coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Podgorica, Montenegro, February 22, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A healthcare worker shows an ampule with the Sputnik V coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Podgorica, Montenegro, February 22, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Israel will likely allow tourists vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to enter Israel next month, The Jerusalem Post has confirmed.

The news comes only days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and less than a week after an announcement by the Prime Minister’s Office that only travelers inoculated with a vaccine recognized by the US Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency or the World Health Organization would be able to enter the country.

Sputnik V is not approved by any of these bodies.

The decision, which would go into effect on November 15, was made during a meeting held Tuesday night between Bennett and senior health officials.

The cabinet would still need to approve the decision, and no formal announcement has been made.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2021.  (credit: SPUTNIK/EVGENY VIYATO/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2021. (credit: SPUTNIK/EVGENY VIYATO/KREMLIN VIA REUTERS)

A report by N12 said that travelers who are vaccinated with Sputnik will still need to take a serological test on arrival in the country. The new tourism outline, which goes into effect on November 1, erases the need for fully vaccinated people to be screened for antibodies in Israel.

All travelers are required to take a PCR test within 72 hours before boarding their flight to Israel and on arrival.

The vaccine is named Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite, Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite that was launched into space by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Russia registered the vaccine for public use in its own country in August 2020, the first country to do so.

Russia had been vying for the approval of its vaccine in Israel since the beginning of the year, when it announced that its Phase III trial results showed that the vaccine was 92% effective at preventing symptomatic infection.

Hadassah-University Medical Center’s former CEO Zeev Rotstein said the hospital had signed a memorandum of understanding with Russian Direct Investment Fund and the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology, which collaborated on the development and production of the vaccine, to receive 1.5 million doses – but the vaccines were never approved by the Health Ministry nor brought into the country.

Russia applied for approval from the WHO for its vaccine in February 2021 but has not yet received an emergency use listing (EUL).

In September, the WHO said it had suspended the approval process of Sputnik V because the manufacturing process of the shot had not met the necessary standards. Earlier this month, the WHO said that it was still reviewing data about the vaccine.

“As with other candidate vaccines, WHO continues to assess Sputnik V vaccines from different manufacturing sites and will publish decisions on their EUL status when all the data are available and the review is concluded,” the WHO said in a widely published statement on October 5.

Although Israel is not approving Sputnik V, allowing people to travel into Israel with the vaccination as part of its stringent travel outline would be a de facto recognition of the jab.

On Monday night, the United States announced its new international travel program, which like Israel’s only accepts WHO-approved vaccines, meaning those inoculated with Sputnik are not accepted.

Israel’s announcement, however, was anticipated by analysts, who said that the prime minister could allow people vaccinated with the Russian vaccine into the country for diplomatic gain.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to recognize each other’s vaccine certificates and Green Passes.

Michael Edelstein, a professor of population health at Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University, said he was aware that Russia was still pushing Israel to validate its shot and that Bennett had likely discussed the issue with Putin.

“You can imagine that this negotiation is not purely going to be about the effectiveness of the vaccine,” he said. “It is going to be used as a bargaining chip and become part of the diplomatic discussion.”

Since the beginning of this year, Russia has sent millions of its vaccines to emerging countries as part of a “vaccine diplomacy” program, explained Agathe Demarais, global forecasting director and trustee for the Economist Charitable Trust, an independent charity that is meant to leverage the journalistic expertise of The Economist newspaper.

However, she said, “Despite aggressive media campaigns highlighting Russia’s commitment to coming to the rescue of developing countries, Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has, to date, been a failure.

“Production difficulties have delayed the delivery of second shots of the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine, fueling resentment in local populations,” she said. “In Argentina, these delivery delays have led to a bitter diplomatic row between the two governments. In addition, a lack of transparency over clinical data and doubts around the quality of some batches of the vaccine have increased hesitancy toward the Russian-made vaccine.”