MOSCOW – While at the Park House shopping mall in northern Moscow, Vladimir Makarov noticed that it was giving customers a coronavirus vaccine, so he asked how long it would take.
“It turns out that it’s simple here – 10 minutes,” he said of his experience last month.
But Makarov, like many Muskovis, still decided to stop receiving Sputnik V shots.
Russia claimed last year to be the first in the world to authorize the coronovirus vaccine, but now finds itself lagging behind in protecting its population. It has cast doubt on whether officials will reach their ambitious target of vaccinating more than 30 million of the nation’s 146 million people by mid-June and about 69 million by August.
Shots come in the form of a reluctance to vaccinate that 200 or more state and private clinics, shopping malls, food courts, hospitals – even in a theater – are readily available in the capital.
As of mid-April, 1 million, or about 8% of Moscow’s 12.7 million inhabitants, have received at least one shot, even though the campaign began in December.
This percentage is the same for Russia overall. Through April 27, only 12.1 million people have received at least one shot and only 7.7 million, or 5%, have been fully vaccinated. This puts Russia far behind the US, where 43% have gained at least one shot, and the European Union at around 27%.
Data analyst Alexander Dragon, who monitors vaccinations across Russia, said that last week the country was giving shots to 200,000–205,000 people a day. To hit the target in mid-June, it should be almost double.
“We need to start vaccinating 370,000 people a day early, like, starting tomorrow,” the Dragons told the Associated Press.
To boost demand, Moscow authorities began offering coupons of 1,000 rubles ($ 13) to more than 60 people, which is not a small amount for those receiving monthly pensions of around 20,000 rubles ($ 260). .
Nevertheless, it has not generated much enthusiasm. Some elderly Muscovites told the AP that it was difficult to register online for coupons or to find grocery stores that accepted them.
Other sectors are also encouraging. Authorities in Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska, promised 2,000 rubles for vaccination, while the neighboring Magadan region offered 1,000 rubles. A theater in St. Petersburg offered a discounted ticket for those presenting vaccination certificates.
The vaccination rate of Russia lagged behind on many factors, including supply. Russian drug makers have slowed mass production, and many areas were lacking in March.
So far, only 28 million two-dose sets of all three vaccines have been produced in Russia, with Sputnik V accounting for most of them, and only 17.4 million have been released in circulation after undergoing quality control.
The waiting list for the shot stays in places longer. Regional Deputy Health Minister Yekaterina Utieva told the AP that in the fifth most populous Sverdlovsk region in Russia, 178,000 people were on the waiting list until mid-April.
On April 28, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were enough vaccines available in Russia, adding that demand was the defining factor in the country’s vaccination rate.
Another fact of the reluctance of the Russians on Sputnik V was that it was also rolled out as a mass test to ensure its safety and efficacy. A study published in February in the British medical journal The Lancet stated that the vaccine is safe and highly effective against COVID-19, according to a trial of about 20,000 people in Russia.
A survey by Russia’s top independent polluter Levada Center in February showed that only 30% of respondents were prepared to receive Sputnik V, one of three domestically produced vaccines. There was an error of 3.4 percentage points in the voting.
Dragon, a data analyst, says one possible explanation for the reluctance is the authorities’ statement that they have eliminated the outbreak, even if that assessment is premature.
With most virus restrictions and government officials praising the Kremlin’s response to the epidemic, some people were inspired to get the shot, saying, “If its outbreak is over, why would I be vaccinated?”
Vasily Valsalov, a public health expert at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, echoed the dragon’s spirit and pointed to inconsistent signals from authorities and the media.
“They reported that in 2020 the Russians were bombarded with contradictory messages – the first time (coronavirus) was not dangerous and just a cold, then it was a fatal infection,” he told the AP. “Then they were banned from leaving their homes.”
Another legend, he said, was that foreign vaccines were dangerous but not Russian-produced. State TV reported an adverse reaction involving Western vaccines, celebrating the international success of Sputnik V.
A proper media campaign promoting vaccination did not begin until late March on observers and news reports on State TV. Channel 1’s national network video showed celebrities and other public figures talking about their experience, but did not receive an injection. President Vladimir Putin said that he had received the shot at about the same time, but not on camera.
“Useful ground for plotters,” said Dragons, who also works in marketing.
Rumors about the vaccine’s alleged threats actually rose on social media in December, when Russia began administering the shots, and has continued since then, social anthropologist Alexandra Arkipova said.
Rumors combined with other factors – pseudoscience on Russian TV, vaccine delivery problems and a disproportionate rollout of propaganda campaigns – to disrupt the vaccination campaign, Archipova told the AP.
Meanwhile, Vellasov said, the outbreak in Russia is over, and there are also signs that it is increasing.
“In Russia, an equal number of people are infected every day, which is at a peak compared to last May,” he said.
Government figures say that there have been around 8,000–9,000 infections per day across the country, with 300–400 deaths per day recorded. But new cases have been steadily increasing in Moscow in the past month, exceeding 3,000 for the first time since January.
Transition rates are rising in seven regions, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said on April 23, without her identification. She blamed “inadequate vaccination rates” in some places.
And yet, the abundance of vaccines in Moscow has attracted foreigners who cannot take shots at home. A group of Germans received the first jab at their hotel last month.
Uwe Kiem, a 46-year-old software developer from Stuttgart, told the AP that he believes “there are more vaccines available in Russia than people here demand.”
Kostya Menankov and Anatoly Kozlov in Moscow and Yuliya Alexeva in Yekaterinburg contributed.
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Daria Litvinova, The Associated Press