By mid-April, more than one million of Moscow’s 12.7 million people, or about 8%, had received at least one injection, even though the campaign had started in December.
This percentage is similar for Russia as a whole. As of April 27, only 12.1 million people have received at least one vaccine and only 7.7 million, or 5%, have been fully vaccinated. This puts Russia far behind the United States, where 43% got at least one shot, and the European Union with almost 27%.
Data analyst Alexander Dragan, who tracks vaccinations across Russia, said last week that the country was giving vaccines to 200,000-205,000 people per day. To reach the mid-June target, it must be almost double.
“We need to start vaccinating 370,000 people a day, for example, starting tomorrow,” Dragan told The Associated Press.
To stimulate demand, Moscow officials have started offering coupons worth 1,000 rubles ($ 13) to those over 60 who get vaccinated – not a small sum for those who receive a monthly pension from about 20,000 rubles ($ 260).
Still, it didn’t generate much enthusiasm. Some elderly Muscovites told AP that it was difficult to sign up for coupons online or find grocery stores that accepted them.
Other regions also offer incentives. Authorities in Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska, promised the elderly 2,000 rubles to get vaccinated, while the neighboring Magadan region offered 1,000 rubles. A theater in St. Petersburg offered discounted tickets for those who presented a vaccination certificate.
Russia’s lagging vaccination rates depend on several factors, including supply. Russian drugmakers have been slow to ramp up mass production, and there were shortages in March in many regions.
So far, only 28 million two-dose sets of the three vaccines available in Russia have been produced, with Sputnik V accounting for most of them, and only 17.4 million have been released after being tested. quality.
The waiting lists for the coup remain long in places. In the Sverdlovsk region, the fifth most populous in Russia, 178,000 people were on a waiting list in mid-April, regional deputy health minister Yekaterina Yutyaeva told AP.
On April 28, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were enough vaccines available in Russia, adding that demand was the determining factor in the country’s vaccination rate.
Another factor in the Russian reluctance towards Sputnik V was the fact that it was deployed even as large-scale tests to ensure its safety and effectiveness were still underway. But a study published in February in the British medical journal The Lancet said the vaccine appeared safe and highly effective against COVID-19, according to a trial involving around 20,000 people in Russia.
A poll conducted in February by Russia’s leading independent pollster, the Levada Center, showed that only 30% of those polled were willing to get Sputnik V, one of three vaccines available in the country. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Dragan, the data analyst, says one possible explanation for the reluctance is authorities’ accounts that they have tamed the outbreak, although that assessment may be premature.
With most viral restrictions lifted and government officials praising the Kremlin’s pandemic response, few are motivated to get vaccinated, he said, citing an attitude of “If the epidemic is over, why get me vaccinated?”
Vasily Vlassov, a public health expert at the Moscow Graduate School of Economics, echoed Dragan’s sentiment and also pointed to inconsistent signals from officials and the media.
“Russians in 2020 were bombarded with mixed messages – first about the fact that (the coronavirus) was not dangerous and was just a common cold, then it was a deadly infection” , he told the AP. “Then they were forbidden to leave their homes.”
Another account, he said, was that foreign vaccines were dangerous, but those produced in Russia were not. State television reported adverse effects from Western vaccines while celebrating the international success of Sputnik V.
A full-blown media campaign promoting vaccinations only began on state television at the end of March, observers and reports noted. Videos on the national Channel 1 network featured celebrities and other public figures talking about their experiences, but did not show them being injected. President Vladimir Putin said he received the photo around the same time, but not on camera.
“A breeding ground for conspiracy theorists,” said Dragan, who also works in marketing.
Rumors about the alleged dangers of vaccines actually burst onto social media in December, when Russia started administering the vaccines, and have continued steadily since then, said social anthropologist Alexandra Arkhipova.
The rumors combined with other factors – pseudoscience on Russian television, problems with vaccine distribution and the uneven rollout of the promotional campaign – to hamper the vaccination campaign, Arkhipova told AP.
Vlassov, meanwhile, noted that the epidemic in Russia was far from over and that there were even signs of growth.
“About the same number of people are infected every day in Russia now as they did last May, at the height of the epidemic,” he said, adding that twice as many people die every day as one year ago.
Government statistics indicate that infections have remained at around 8,000 to 9,000 per day nationwide, with 300 to 400 deaths recorded each day. But new cases have steadily increased in Moscow over the past month, surpassing 3,000 last week for the first time since January.
Infection rates are increasing in seven regions, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said on April 23, without identifying them. She blamed “insufficient vaccination rates” in some places.
And yet, the abundance of vaccines in Moscow has attracted foreigners who cannot get vaccinated at home. A group of Germans received their first blow in their hotel last month.
Uwe Keim, a 46-year-old software developer from Stuttgart, told AP he believes “there are more vaccines available here in Russia than is demanded by people here.”
Kostya Manenkov and Anatoly Kozlov in Moscow and Yulia Alexeyeva in Yekaterinburg contributed.
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Daria Litvinova, The Associated Press