Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘s announcement Tuesday that his country was the first to authorize a coronavirus vaccine did not evoke the excitement and wonder of the 1957 launch of the first satellite into space by the Soviet Union. It was instead met with doubts about science and security.
Yet it also underscored how the fight to get the first vaccine, like the space race, is about both regional rivalries and science. The first nation to find a way to overcome the novel coronavirus would gain some kind of victory in the moonshot and the global prestige that goes with it. It is important for Putin, whose domestic reputation has plummeted in the midst of a weak economy and the virus outbreak ravages.
“To be the first one out of the block with a coronavirus vaccine would be a real — pardon the pun — shot in the arm for the Kremlin,” said Timothy Frye, a political science professor at Columbia University who specializes in post-Soviet politics. Russia definitely isn’t alone in looking at a vaccine in this way. China, where the virus first appeared, has also searched for a vaccine to make headway. A state-owned Chinese corporation prides itself on having received experimental shots from its workers, including top executives, long before the government approved human testing.