Belarus on Tuesday began a vaccination drive against coronavirus using the Sputnik V jab, becoming the first country outside Russia to use the vaccine developed by Moscow.
Belarus, with a population of around 9.5 million people, has registered more than 188,000 cases of coronavirus infections and nearly 1,400 deaths.
"Today the first vaccine shipment has arrived in Belarus," said the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) which financed Sputnik V.
RDIF spokesman Arseny Palagin did not say how many doses had been sent to Belarus.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Belarus Health Minister Dmitry Pinevich said health workers and teachers would be among the first Belarusians to be inoculated.
"We thank Russia for active mutual work and strategic cooperation to solve this issue," Pinevich was quoted as saying in the joint statement.
Kirill Dmitriyev, RDIF general director, said Russia planned to begin producing Sputnik V in the ex-Soviet country to "simplify logistics" and speed up the vaccination campaign.
Russia in August was the first country to announce the registration of a coronavirus vaccine -- dubbed Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite -- but did so ahead of large scale clinical trials.
Western and some Russian experts have raised concerns over the fast-tracked jab and critics have described it as a tool to bolster Russia's geopolitical influence.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.