How COVID contributed to the invasion of Ukraine
I spend a lot of time thinking about Covid and Ukraine. Because Covid caused the Ukraine invasion - well, it was one of the causes. And now the invasion is causing Covid. Every virus likes a good vicious cycle.
It’s an open secret in the Russian medical establishment that the sputnik vaccine just doesn’t work. The link is a commentary piece, not an RCT but it matches both my professional experience with post-Soviet medical systems and what I have heard from colleagues in the region. Russian vaccine development was flawed. Plagued by corruption and excessive political pressure to produce an effective vaccine faster than was reasonably possible.
Russian medical researchers are very often poorly trained and underfunded. Many have had their research integrity beaten out of them by relentless political pressure and systemic corruption. Nobody goes to medical school wanting to be a bad doctor. But plenty of well-meaning people end up as bad doctors, and many of those bad doctors become bad medical researchers. I couldn’t find data I would personally trust on the effectiveness of sputnik as a vaccine. I would not personally rely on sputnik to keep myself safe.
The vaccine is marginally effective and to make things worse, the anti-vaccine propaganda that was promulgated by Russia in order to harm the west has come home to roost. Russians themselves are now deeply prone to anti-vaccine disinformation. Russians are suspicious of vaccines in general and they’re (rightly) suspicious of sputnik. Even Vladimir Putin himself delayed getting his COVID vaccine. As a result, Russia has a Covid epidemic that is raging out of control and no clear sense of how to stop it.
Putin needed a distraction. Putin today is not the evil genius Putin of 20 years ago. Putin today is isolated from real information sources. He’s surrounded by cronies and toadies who are afraid to tell him the truth. So here’s Putin sitting here thinking that an invasion of Ukraine will be an excellent distraction and an easy win. Proof of Russian power and everybody will stop thinking about Covid for a while. All his information sources are telling him the military is strong, Ukraine is weak, and the US is on the verge of a civil war and too fragile to deal with Russia stuff.
That’s part one of the vicious cycle - how Covid helped cause the invasion of Ukraine. Now for part two, which is more obvious.
Russian troops are bringing Covid to Ukraine. They’ve been vaccinated with the crappy sputnik vaccine and it’s not really working. They’re in tight quarters in troop carriers and tanks. It’s cold cold cold and covid likes cold. Covid is spreading through Russian troops and these Covid-infected Russian troops are rolling all through Ukraine and sharing their Covid around.
Now let’s talk about Ukrainian. Vaccine rollout has been pretty slow in Ukraine. Because let’s face it, Zelenskyy is one hell of a war time leader but he wasn’t the kind of guy that creates highly efficient bureaucracy. Ukraine was in a tough financial position and they were in a tough logistical position, and their population vaccination numbers just weren’t great.
The population was not as protected from Covid as one would prefer. Now they’re fleeing across the country as fast as they can in crowded vehicles. Then they’re waiting in crowded lines and then being housed in close quarters. Ukrainians have Covid and they’re giving each other Covid. There’s no real data on this but we can all be pretty sure that Covid is spreading intensely along with displaced Ukrainian people. I’m trying to find something dispassionate and professional to say here but it’s just really awful. It’s depressing and awful.
Finally, I don’t know that I actually need to say this to this audience. Presumably if you signed up for this newsletter you care about Covid and you’re thinking about it globally. But it never hurts to repeat: Ukraine’s Covid problem is everybody’s Covid problem. Russia’s Covid problem is everybody’s Covid problem.
Infectious diseases spread from person to person. Ukrainian refugees will travel all over the world. The PCR testing process is not designed to catch every case. Whenever you have large unprotected populations, it’s a risk to the whole planet. It’s a reservoir for Covid to spread and mutate and create new variants.
We should be angry about what’s happening to Ukrainians. We should even be angry about what’s happening to Russians - they deserved a vaccine that actually worked. The Russian population is made up of human beings who deserve quality healthcare and that includes actual vaccines that actually immunize.
And we should be worried about what it means for the rest of us.