CNN has been granted exclusive access to the facility, now home to Generium Pharmaceutical, which has been contracted to ramp up production of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V.
The sprawling high-tech complex is one of seven new production centers across the country.
Every step of the production process had to be carefully designed and calibrated, including extensive water filtration systems, to mass produce the brand new vaccine.
“In principle, the manufacturing process was known on a small scale, in the lab, but doing it on a large industrial scale is another universe,” Dmitry Poteryaev, Generium’s scientific director, told CNN.
“You can’t just go from one liter of bioreactor to 100 liters or 1000 or 1 ton of bioreactor. Every process is different, the oxygenation is different, the mass balance is different,” he explained.
He said these issues were resolved several months ago and the factory was now ready to further increase production.
“Today, we are producing several million doses every month and hope to get an even higher amount, maybe 10 or 20 million a month,” Poteryaev said.
In cavernous refrigerators, with temperatures even colder than the freezing Russian winter, vials of Sputnik V are packed in crates, awaiting distribution. Each vial has its own unique QR code, we are told, so that it can be traced back to individual patients, wherever they are in the world.
Hesitation at home
It is a country with one of the highest numbers of Covid-19 infections in the world – over 4.1 million cases and above. But it also has one of the highest vaccine hesitancy rates in the world. A recent opinion poll, published by the Independent Levada Center, indicated that only 38% of Russians were ready to be vaccinated.
Earlier this month, one of the key scientists behind the vaccine’s development said that about 2.2 million people – less than 2% of Russia’s population – had received at least the initial dose of the vaccine. two-injection scheme.
Yet anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are going crazy on the internet and being seen by millions of people in Russia, watch groups say. Alexander Arkhipova, a social anthropologist at a state university known as RANEPA, told CNN that many Russians have a cultural tendency to distrust the medical establishment, which is seen as a controlling arm of the government, meddling in people’s privacy.
Another reason for doubt is perhaps that while President Vladimir Putin has said his daughter has been vaccinated, he has not yet been vaccinated.
The Kremlin brushed aside questions about the reasons, saying Putin had a vaccine planned and when he is finally vaccinated, the nation will be notified.
But in a country where many people look to the Kremlin strongman for his lead, his abstinence on the Sputnik V front is noticeable and disheartening.
Ice Cream Incentives
All adults without an underlying health problem in Russia can now benefit from a free vaccination. But progress in Moscow, for example, is painfully slow. In a city of more than 12 million inhabitants, less than 600,000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.
So the pressure is to increase the numbers.
And all over Moscow – the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia – pop-up clinics are being set up.
There’s one in the upscale GUM mall, a short walk from snow-capped Red Square, where Muscovites can browse the latest fashion trends in expensive boutiques, before heading upstairs to get Sputnik V. They even get free ice cream with each inoculation – coated in vanilla chocolate.
Staff told CNN they vaccinate around 200 people every day. There is capacity for hundreds more.
Another clinic has been set up in a trendy food hall, Depo Moscow, to encourage vaccination after a street meal or a sushi dinner.
For classical music lovers, there’s even one inside Helikon, a prestigious Moscow opera house, where stark tones of recorded tenors echo through speakers as people wait for their inoculation.
Some people understand that the vaccine is their best chance of surviving the pandemic.
Vadim Svistunov, 84, and his wife Nonna, 86, attended the opera house for the initial vaccine and the booster three weeks later.
“We don’t want to go up there yet,” Svistunov told CNN, as he pointed to the sky. “We’re in no rush,” he said.