Anti-COVID vaccination slows down in Russia

MOSCOW (AP) – While visiting a Moscow shopping center, Vladimir Makarov saw that they were offering the coronavirus vaccine and asked how long the process would take.

“It was quite simple: 10 minutes,” he recounted his experience last month.

Makarov, however, decided to postpone inoculation with the Sputnik V vaccine.

Russia bragged last year about being the first country to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine, but is now lagging behind in implementing the vaccine. And doubts arise about whether the authorities will be able to fulfill their promise to vaccinate 30 of its 146 million inhabitants by mid-June and almost 69 million by August.

The reluctance to get vaccinated in Moscow comes despite the fact that there are more than 200 facilities that immunize everyone aged 18 and over: in private and state clinics, in shopping malls, in food outlets, hospitals and even a theater.

By mid-April, one million of Moscow’s 12.7 million inhabitants – 8% of the population – had received at least one dose, although the campaign began in December.

The rest of Russia has similar percentages. By April 27, only 12.1 million inhabitants had received at least the first vaccine and only 7.7 million – 5% of the population – had both doses. For comparison, 43% of the US population has at least one dose, and 27% of Europeans also had at least one vaccination.

Data analyst Alexander Dragan, who studies vaccinations in Russia, said that 200,000 to 205,000 people were being vaccinated daily. To meet the June deadline, almost twice as many people would have to be vaccinated.

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“We should vaccinate 370,000 people a day, starting tomorrow,” Dragan told the Associated Press.

To encourage people to get vaccinated, Moscow authorities began offering 1,000 ruble ($ 13) coupons to anyone over 60 who gets vaccinated. It is an interesting sum for people who sometimes receive pensions of 20,000 rubles ($ 260) a month.

But not even so did the interest in getting vaccinated. Some seniors told the AP it was difficult to sign up for coupons online or find stores that accept them.

Incentives are also offered in other regions. The Chukotka authorities have promised the elderly 2,000 rubles if they get vaccinated and in the neighboring Magadan region 1,000 rubles are offered. A theater in St. Petersburg offered discounted tickets to those with proof that they were vaccinated.

The slow vaccination responds to several factors, including supply problems. Vaccine production is also slow and in several regions there was a shortage of doses in March.

So far 28 million two-dose sets of the three vaccines available in Russia have been produced. Most are from the Sputnik V vaccine, although only 17.4 million have been distributed so far, after passing quality controls.

There are long waiting lists at many sites. In the Sverdlovsk region, Russia’s fifth most populous, there were 178,000 people on waiting lists as of mid-April, regional deputy health minister Ekaterina Yutyaeva told the AP.

On April 28, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov assured that there were enough vaccines and that the problem was that people were not getting vaccinated.

Another aspect that affects the lack of interest in getting vaccinated is that Sputnik V was distributed when studies had not yet been completed to certify that it was safe and that it worked. Those studies are continuing. The British medical journal The Lancet, however, said in February that Sputnik V appeared very safe and effective against COVID-19, based on tests of about 20,000 people carried out in Russia.

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A February poll by Russia’s leading consulting firm, the Levanda Center, revealed that only 30% of respondents were willing to get vaccinated with Sputnik V. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Dragan, the data analyst, speculates that one reason for the reluctance to get vaccinated is that authorities are saying they have already controlled the virus, when in fact it is premature to say so.

“If the outbreak is over, why am I going to get vaccinated?” People ask, according to Dragan.

Vasily Vlassov, a public health expert at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, said the government was sending mixed signals.

“In 2020 we were bombarded with mixed messages. They first said that the virus was not dangerous, just a cold. After that it was a deadly infection, “he told the AP. “Then they forbade us to leave the house.”

The campaign promoting vaccination, on the other hand, was poor, especially in the beginning, according to Vlassov. It also didn’t help that no footage was broadcast of President Vladimir Putin when he was immunized.

“That is fertile ground for conspiracy theories,” Dragan said.

The theory that vaccines are scarce loses force if one takes into account that there are foreigners who come to Russia to get vaccinated and say they have no problem doing so.

Uwe Keim, a 46-year-old software programmer from Stuttgart, told the AP that he believes “there are more vaccines in Russia than people ask for.”


Kostya Manenkov and Anatoly Kozlov collaborated from Moscow and Yulia Alexeyeva from Yekaterinburg.

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