Third, and perhaps most painfully, the government’s recent communication about vaccination — an incredibly challenging and sensitive subject — has been a bit like that pigeon who plays chess by knocking over the pieces, crapping all over the board, and claiming victory anyway. Not only did the rollout of Sputnik V break the carefully crafted, long established rules of drug development, it put science journalists and communicators who challenge the official government line in the uncomfortable spot of taking a position that might be interpreted as dismissing or undermining the importance of vaccination. In this upside-down world, when you criticize Sputnik V, you risk being seen as an anti-vaxxer.

Finally, the predictable international backlash against the Russian vaccine does something that is insidiously bad for virtually everyone involved: It puts the Russian government on the defensive and feeds into the bigger propaganda story that Russia is surrounded by enemies only looking for a chance to stab it. This sort of vaccine nationalism plays to isolationist instincts: If everyone else is out to get you, then you can only count on yourself. When the government instinctively starts fighting back, it further entrenches the narrative, which, in turn, makes everyone suspect foul play even more. And like that, Sputnik V makes another vicious public relations orbit.