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Aug 12, 2020
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WASHINGTON (AP) — No, Russia isn't having a Sputnik moment.

The announcement Tuesday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country was the first to approve a coronavirus vaccine did not provoke the awe and wonder of the Soviet Union’s launch of the first satellite into orbit in 1957. Instead, it was met by doubts about the science and safety.

But the claim underscored how, like the space race, the competition to have the first vaccine is about international rivalries as well as science. The first nation to develop a way to defeat the novel coronavirus will achieve a kind of moonshot victory and the global status that goes along with it.

That's valuable to Putin, whose popularity at home has declined amid a stagnant economy and the ravages of the virus outbreak.

“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 is not alone in viewing a vaccine in this light. China, where the virus first emerged, has also raced to make progress on a vaccine. A state-owned Chinese company is boasting that its employees, including top executives, received experimental shots even before the government approved testing in people.

President Donald Trump, whose handling of the coronavirus pandemic has put his political fate in grave jeopardy, is hoping to get credit for his administration’s aggressive push for a vaccine, ideally one that arrives before Election Day in November.

It's far from clear at this point whether Putin has beaten Trump to this medical milestone.

Putin said the Health Ministry gave its approval after the vaccine, named “Sputnik V," underwent the necessary tests. he said one of his two adult daughters had been inoculated. “We should be grateful to those who have taken this first step, which is very important for our country and the whole world,” he said.

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