The Sentinel-Record

Russia’s vaccinatio­n drive lags

Supply issues, conflicted messaging cited as nation attempts to hit ambitious goal

- DARIA LITVINOVA

MOSCOW — While at the Park House shopping mall in northern Moscow, Vladimir Makarov saw it was offering the coronaviru­s vaccine to customers, so he asked how long it would take.

“It turned out it’s simple here — 10 minutes,” he said of his experience last month.

But Makarov, like many Muscovites, still decided to put off getting the Sputnik V shot.

Russia boasted last year of being first in the world to authorize a coronaviru­s vaccine, but it now finds itself lagging in getting its population immunized. That has cast doubt on whether authoritie­s will reach their ambitious goal of vaccinatin­g more than 30 million of the country’s 146 million people by mid-June and nearly 69 million by August.

The vaccine reluctance comes as shots are readily available in the capital to anyone 18 or older at more than 200 state and private clinics, shopping malls, food courts, hospitals — even a theater.

As of mid-April, over 1 million of Moscow’s 12.7 million residents, or about 8%, have received at least one shot, even though the campaign began in December.

That percentage is similar for Russia as a whole. Through April 27, only 12.1 million people have gotten at least one shot and only 7.7 million,

or 5%, have been fully vaccinated. That puts Russia far behind the U.S., where 43% have gotten at least one shot, and the European Union with nearly 27%.

Data analyst Alexander Dragan,

who tracks vaccinatio­ns across Russia, said last week the country was giving shots to 200,000-205,000 people a day. In order to hit the midJune target, it needs to be nearly double that.

“We need to start vaccinatin­g

370,000 people a day, like, beginning tomorrow,” Dragan said.

To boost demand, Moscow officials began offering coupons worth

$13 to those over 60 who get vaccinated — not a small sum for those receiving monthly pensions of about

$260.

Still, it hasn’t generated much enthusiasm. Some elderly Muscovites said it was difficult to register online for the coupons or find grocery stores that accepted them.

Other regions also are offering incentives. Authoritie­s in Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska, promised seniors $26 for getting vaccinated, while the neighborin­g Magadan region offered $13. A theater in St. Petersburg offered discounted tickets for those presenting a vaccinatio­n certificat­e.

Russia’s lagging vaccinatio­n rates hinge on several factors, including supply. Russian drug makers have been slow to ramp up mass production, and there were shortages in March in many regions.

“Russians in 2020 were bombarded with contradict­ory messages — first about [the coronaviru­s] not being dangerous and being just a cold, then that it was a deadly infection. Then they were banned from leaving their homes.”

— Vasily Vlassov, a public health expert at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow

So far, only 28 million two-dose sets of all three vaccines available in Russia have been produced, with Sputnik V accounting for most of them, and only 17.4 million have been released into circulatio­n after undergoing quality control.

Waiting lists for the shot remain long in places. In the Sverdlovsk region, the fifth most-populous in Russia, 178,000 people were on a wait list by midApril, regional Deputy Health Minister Yekaterina Yutyaeva told AP.

On April 28, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there are enough vaccines available in Russia, adding demand was the defining factor in the country’s vaccinatio­n rate.

Another factor in Russians’ reluctance over Sputnik V was the fact that it was rolled out even as large-scale testing to ensure its safety and efficacy was still ongoing. 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 about 20,000 people in Russia.

A poll in February by Russia’s top independen­t pollster, the Levada Center, showed that only 30% of respondent­s were willing to get Sputnik V, one of three domestical­ly produced vaccines available. The poll had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Dragan, the data analyst, says one possible explanatio­n for the reluctance is the narrative from authoritie­s that they have tamed the outbreak, even if that assessment might be premature.

With most virus restrictio­ns lifted and government officials praising the Kremlin’s pandemic response, few have motivation to get the shot, he said, citing an attitude of, “If the outbreak is over, why would I get vaccinated?”

Vasily Vlassov, a public health expert at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, echoed Dragan’s sentiment and also pointed to inconsiste­nt signals from officials and media.

“Russians in 2020 were bombarded with contradict­ory messages — first about [the coronaviru­s] not being dangerous and being just a cold, then that it was a deadly infection,” he said. “Then they were banned from leaving their homes.”

Another narrative, he said, was that foreign vaccines were dangerous but Russian-produced ones were not. State TV reported adverse reactions linked to Western vaccines while celebratin­g Sputnik V’s internatio­nal success.

A proper media campaign promoting vaccinatio­ns didn’t begin on state TV until late March, observers and news reports note. Videos on the Channel 1 national network featured celebritie­s and other public figures talking about their experience but didn’t show them getting injected. President Vladimir Putin said he received the shot about the same time, but not on camera.

“Fruitful ground for conspiracy theorists,” said Dragan, who also works in marketing.

Rumors about the alleged dangers of vaccines actually surged on social media in December, when Russia began administer­ing the shots, and have continued steadily since then, said social anthropolo­gist Alexandra Arkhipova.

The rumors combined with other factors — the pseudoscie­nce on Russian TV, vaccine distributi­on problems and an uneven rollout of the promotiona­l campaign — to hamper the immunizati­on drive, Arkhipova said.

Vlassov, meanwhile, noted the outbreak in Russia is far from over, and there even are signs it is growing.

“Roughly the same number of people get infected every day in Russia now as last May, at the peak of the outbreak,” he said, adding that twice as many people are dying every day than a year ago.

Government statistics say infections have stayed at about 8,000-9,000 per day nationwide, with 300400 deaths recorded daily. But new cases have been steadily increasing in Moscow in the past month, exceeding 3,000 last week for the first time since January.

Infection rates are growing in seven regions, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said 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 can’t get the shot at home. A group of Germans got their first jab at their hotel last month.

Uwe Keim, 46-year-old software developer from Stuttgart, said he believes “there are more vaccines available here in Russia than is demanded by the people here.”

 ?? (AP/Pavel Golovkin) ?? An elderly man receives a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine in front of journalist­s at a vaccinatio­n point in Moscow. To boost the demand, officials in Moscow this week started offering $13 coupons to people over 60 for getting vaccinated. So far, the incentive hasn’t elicited a lot of enthusiasm among elderly Muscovites.
(AP/Pavel Golovkin) An elderly man receives a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine in front of journalist­s at a vaccinatio­n point in Moscow. To boost the demand, officials in Moscow this week started offering $13 coupons to people over 60 for getting vaccinated. So far, the incentive hasn’t elicited a lot of enthusiasm among elderly Muscovites.
 ??  ?? A woman wearing a face mask to protect against coronaviru­s walks past a poster reading “vaccinatio­n against covid-19” at the GUM, the State Department store, near Red Square in Moscow. (AP/Alexander Zemlianich­enko)
A woman wearing a face mask to protect against coronaviru­s walks past a poster reading “vaccinatio­n against covid-19” at the GUM, the State Department store, near Red Square in Moscow. (AP/Alexander Zemlianich­enko)
 ?? (AP/Roman Yarovitcyn) ?? A man wearing a face mask to protect against coronaviru­s leaves a room after receiving Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine at a shopping center in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
(AP/Roman Yarovitcyn) A man wearing a face mask to protect against coronaviru­s leaves a room after receiving Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine at a shopping center in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.
 ?? (AP/Alexander Polegenko) ?? People line up to get a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine in a mobile vaccinatio­n center in Simferopol, Crimea.
(AP/Alexander Polegenko) People line up to get a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine in a mobile vaccinatio­n center in Simferopol, Crimea.
 ?? (AP/Pavel Golovkin) ?? German tourist Uwe Keim (center) gets his first shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine in Moscow.
(AP/Pavel Golovkin) German tourist Uwe Keim (center) gets his first shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine in Moscow.
 ?? (AP/Alexander Polegenko) ?? A Russian medical worker prepares a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine as people line up to at a mobile vaccinatio­n center in Simferopol, Crimea.
(AP/Alexander Polegenko) A Russian medical worker prepares a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine as people line up to at a mobile vaccinatio­n center in Simferopol, Crimea.
 ?? (AP/Alexander Zemlianich­enko) ?? Two men stand near a vaccinatio­n point decorated with the poster showing a portrait of Dr. Denis Protsenko and words reading “Get vaccinated against covid-19!!” at the Exhibition of Achievemen­ts of National Economy in Moscow.
(AP/Alexander Zemlianich­enko) Two men stand near a vaccinatio­n point decorated with the poster showing a portrait of Dr. Denis Protsenko and words reading “Get vaccinated against covid-19!!” at the Exhibition of Achievemen­ts of National Economy in Moscow.
 ?? (AP/Alexander Polegenko) ?? A Russian medical worker administer­s a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine for a woman in Simferopol, Crimea.
(AP/Alexander Polegenko) A Russian medical worker administer­s a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronaviru­s vaccine for a woman in Simferopol, Crimea.
 ??  ?? People walk past posters reading “Do not risk everything that is dear to you. Get vaccinated against coronaviru­s” in St. Petersburg, Russia.
(AP/Dmitri Lovetsky)
People walk past posters reading “Do not risk everything that is dear to you. Get vaccinated against coronaviru­s” in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP/Dmitri Lovetsky)
 ??  ?? An employee waits for customers at a vaccinatio­n point in Moscow. (AP/Pavel Golovkin)
An employee waits for customers at a vaccinatio­n point in Moscow. (AP/Pavel Golovkin)

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