Russia’s Sputnik V vaccination program has started, but faces resistance

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As the mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Russia began this week, thousands of Russians rolled up their sleeves and volunteered to be among the first to have their arms stung with a dose of Sputnik V.
Many others, however, seem to be holding back from seeing how things turn out for those who have.

“People are worried because they don’t understand how the vaccine is made, and they see a lot of controversy in the media,” said Dr Yevgeny Timakov, a Moscow-based infectious disease specialist.

“Most of my patients – around 80% – want to be vaccinated, but among them… [only] 20% are ready to do it now, ”he told CBC News in an interview.

His observations reflect what could be great public reluctance to take a vaccine that has been developed, approved and delivered to the public in a record time.

Dr Olga Moskova is vaccinated against the coronavirus. She told CBC News that while the vaccine may not yet be perfect, getting it is “the right thing to do” right now. (Corinne Seminoff / CBC)

What Timakov is hearing from his patients echoes the findings of a public opinion survey conducted by the Independent Lavada Institute in October. This suggests that mistrust of vaccines among Russians has increased as the pandemic has worsened, with 59% of those polled suggesting they are unwilling to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, which causes COVID- disease. 19.

Another survey published around the same time by the official RIA Novosti news agency reported that more than 70% of Russians did not intend to be vaccinated.

Awaiting full results from phase 3

The Russian vaccine, whose name is believed to evoke memories of Soviet-era success in space, was the first in the world to be registered in August and since then tens of thousands of health workers, d teachers, soldiers and others with connections to the government took it.

However, the initial success of the vaccine has been defended based on results involving a small sample of less than 100 volunteers.

Subsequent results from larger Phase 3 trials validated these early results, but the developer of Sputnik V has yet to release these full results as Western vaccine developers have.

Pfizer / BioNTech yesterday released its safety data as part of its approval process with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sputnik V vials at BIOCAD, a biotechnology company in St. Petersburg. While some in the West have criticized the lack of transparency around the development of the Russian vaccine, others say the underlying science is strong and consistent with other COVID-19 vaccines. (Anton Vaganov / Reuters)

“People are suspicious of vaccination and wait for clinical trials to end and [to] see that the vaccine is working. All this they will see in time, ”said Timakov, who supports the vaccine and encourages Russians to take it.

Its creator, the Gamaleya Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology, said he hopes more than two million Russians can be vaccinated by the end of the month, although it is not clear whether this goal can be achieved.

Russia has repeatedly promised a national immunization program throughout the fall, but production delays have continued to push back the start date.

‘The right thing to do’

CBC News visited one of 70 Moscow region hospitals and clinics that began administering the vaccine this week as part of the national immunization program.

Many of those who signed up to be among the first to get vaccinated were healthcare workers, at higher risk of contracting the virus.

“You have to get the vaccine because you have to keep working,” said Dr Olga Maskova.

Like everyone else who received the vaccine, Maskova was given an information sheet listing possible short-term side effects, including chills, fever and skin irritation.

“My role as a doctor is to explain the risks that there will be if they do not take the vaccine,” says Natalia Kuzinkova, chief medical officer of clinic No. 68. (Corinne Seminoff / CBC)

“I am absolutely convinced this is the right step,” she said. “Later the vaccine could be perfected, and maybe there will be other vaccines, but I think it’s the right thing to do right now. ”

Sputnik V is an adenovirus-based platform that uses a modified cold virus to induce the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against the coronavirus and requires a boost 21 days after the first injection.

This is a process similar to that used by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca for its vaccine.

India, South Korea and United Arab Emirates sign for Sputnik

Western experts have been divided over the Russian vaccine, with some lamenting the lack of transparency in trials and the use of early data to draw sweeping conclusions about its effectiveness.

Others, however, argue that the science behind the vaccine is proven and that it will likely make a significant contribution to tackling the virus around the world once it is widely used.

Natalia Kuzinkova, chief medical officer of Clinic No.68, the facility visited by CBC News, said she understands there may be reluctance to be among the first to get the vaccine, but the risks of ‘wait are much bigger.

“My role as a doctor is to explain the risks there will be if they don’t take the vaccine,” she said. “Yes, I hear opinions, but my responsibility is to tell them that if they aren’t sick yet, they could still get sick and die. ”

The Kremlin has waged an intense global public relations campaign to sell its vaccine to weary COVID customers abroad, but also to demonstrate Russian superiority in an area that was once a point of pride for the former Soviet Union : vaccine production.

Few Western governments, with the notable exception of Hungary in the European Union, have so far shown interest in the Russian vaccine. However, dozens of countries in other parts of the world, including India, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, have signed deals to buy it.

The Sputnik V vaccine arrives at Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport in November. Hungary is the only EU country to have shown interest in the Russian vaccine so far. (Matyas Borsos / Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Reuters)

The process is moving too fast, some say

While some of the concerns about the virus are clearly rooted in the contradictory nature of Putin’s relationship with his counterparts in Europe and North America, they were also amplified by Russia’s own boasting about the vaccine’s success and the calendar of proclamations that seemed conceived. ad hoc announcements from western vaccine manufacturers.

The CBC News team in Moscow visited the Kuznetsky Most pedestrian mall a few blocks from the Kremlin to ask random people if they were planning to sign up for the vaccination.

Most told us they would not.

“I don’t trust this vaccine,” Artyom Bagamayev said. “The trials usually last for many years, but here it’s just a little too fast. ”

“In the past it was an arms race, but now it’s a biological race, a vaccine race. ”

Natalia Panfilova agreed.

“You can’t produce an effective vaccine in such a short time, test it and say it is effective,” she said. “I don’t understand if it works or if it doesn’t or how effective it is. ”

A medical worker receives his vaccine against Sputnik V. Phase 3 trials of the vaccine are not yet complete. (Corinne Seminoff / CBC)

Putin not yet vaccinated

The potential for vaccine hesitation is clearly not unique to Russia, but it may be heightened by a longstanding lack of confidence in the country’s health system.

Hospitals in many parts of the country are overwhelmed by coronavirus cases and social media has been inundated with videos shot by patients showing deplorable conditions.

So far, during this second wave of coronavirus cases, Russian authorities in most cities, including the capital, Moscow, have been reluctant to invoke lockdowns due to the heavy economic toll it could inflict on a city. economy already struggling.

The severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 500 deaths per day, also makes public buy-in for the vaccination program even more essential if the virus is to be brought under control.

While many prominent Russians have been shown on TV getting vaccinated, the country’s most prominent person and the vaccine’s biggest cheerleader have yet to do so.

The Kremlin says Putin has not taken the two doses of COVID-19 and has not yet proposed a time frame for doing so.

WATCH | Why some Russians are reluctant to get vaccinated against Sputnik V:

Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine is now being given to the general population although it is still in phase 3. A Russian doctor said only 20% of his patients want to be the first to get it due to concerns about safety and efficiency. Some in the West have also been skeptical, but British scientists have said the Sputnik trial results are consistent with those of other vaccines. 2:01

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