MOSCOW – In August 2020, Russia became the first country in the world to register a vaccine against Covid-19. President Vladimir Putin broke the news on national television and said that one of his daughters had already been vaccinated.
At the time, Russia was on the verge of overtaking other countries in its efforts to vaccinate its population.
Instead, 10 months after the approval of Sputnik V, Russia’s vaccination rate is one of the lowest among countries where vaccines are widely available.
Only 14% of Russia’s 146 million people have been vaccinated with at least one dose, compared to 53.5% of Americans, according to Our World in Data, a surveillance project based at the University of Oxford.
An ambitious plan to vaccinate 30 million Russians by June – which involved giving away free cars and races – has failed by a third.
There are three Russian-made vaccines approved for use in Russia, and the country has sold Sputnik V to countries around the world, including Turkey and Brazil. Russian-made vaccines are the only ones available to most Russians, and supplies are plentiful. The researchers said the Russian Sputnik V vaccine is around 91% effective.
The Kremlin said in a statement on Friday that there were shortages in some areas, such was the level of “growing demand.” But many just don’t trust Russian-made clichés.
Samyr Oynushev, a musician from Moscow, has no plans to get the vaccine, although he believes Covid vaccines are needed.
“If I had a choice, I would rather take a non-Russian vaccine,” said the 29-year-old.
” I think that [low vaccination rates] are mainly the fault of the government, that people don’t trust them so much.
Others feel that after recovering from Covid-19, they don’t need to rush to get the vaccine. According to a study published in the journal Nature, around 45% of the adult population of Russia’s second city, St. Petersburg, have antibodies to the coronavirus.
Epidemiologist Vasily Vlassov, a professor at the Moscow Graduate School of Economics, has yet to be vaccinated and believes his antibodies are still protecting him from infection after catching Covid-19 in January.
Although vaccinations in the former Soviet Union were widely accepted, reluctance began to increase in the 1990s after the fall of communism when people realized they could make choices on their own, a he declared.
“The Russians know that German cars are better than Russian cars and they find it hard to believe that a Russian vaccine is better,” he said.
Currently in Israel, Vlassov is considering obtaining the Pfizer vaccine which is widely available there.
Despite his initial enthusiasm for the vaccine, Putin offered no evidence, other than a brief government statement, that he received a Russian-made injection. Unlike other world leaders who have been photographed with their sleeves rolled up or even bare chests as they received their photo, no photos of Putin have been released.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 rates and deaths in Russia are rising rapidly. After a drop in infections, the country is now reporting numbers similar to those seen in February, largely due to the delta variant. In Moscow, nearly 90% of reported cases were linked to the variant, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said last week.
The National Coronavirus Task Force on Saturday said 619 people have died in the past day, the highest number since December 24. Russia also reported its highest number of daily Covid-19 deaths of the year, with 21,665 cases.
These rising rates, along with reluctance to get vaccinated, have led authorities to offer incentives to residents, including the chance to win new cars. In Moscow, city authorities gave employers in public services one month to ensure that 60% of their staff had been vaccinated or faced a fine.
Sobyanin ordered bars and restaurants in the capital to serve people only if they have been vaccinated or have had an infection indicating immunity. And unvaccinated people may soon be denied non-urgent hospital treatment. This crackdown has led to a flourishing black market for fake vaccination certificates.
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Natalia Andreeva, a laboratory diagnostician in Moscow, has not yet been vaccinated but has accepted that she will need to be in the future.
“It inevitably has to be done,” said Andreeva, 63. “I think a lot of people are scared of getting vaccinated because it all happened very quickly. “
There are signs that the inducements and threats from officials seem to be working. Last week, the vaccination rate in Moscow increased four to five times, deputy mayor Anastasia Rakova told Russia-24 public news channel.
However, epidemiologist Anton Barchuk, the researcher who conducted the antibody prevalence study in St. Petersburg, suggests that a more effective way to convince people to get vaccinated would be to more openly discuss the benefits and consequences. disadvantages.
“The pandemic has highlighted the problems of vaccine reluctance,” he said, adding that uptake of other vaccines for adults is also low. “It’s a problem of trust and a lack of information about the harms and benefits of vaccination. “
Tatyana Chistikova reported from Moscow, Rachel Elbaum reported from London. Reuters also contributed to this report.