Russian Covid-19 vaccine is accepted abroad and rejected at home

MOSCOW – Last summer, Russia was the first nation to announce its approval of a Covid-19 vaccine. Since then, dozens of countries, from Mexico to Iran, have ordered millions of doses of the injection, known as Sputnik V.

But at home, Russia’s vaccination campaign has failed amid one of the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy in the world. While the vaccine is free and widely available, only 3.5% of Russians have received at least one injection, compared to 17.1% in the US and 32.1% in the Kingdom. United, according to Our World in Data, an Oxford University project that launches vaccines worldwide. Recent polls show that less than a third of Russians are willing to receive the Sputnik V vaccine.

Behind the skepticism are lingering doubts about the rapid development of Sputnik V and an ingrained mistrust in the authorities stemming from the country’s Soviet past. Polls, for example, show that many Russians believe that the coronavirus is a human-made biological weapon. At the same time, polls indicate a strong current of Covid-19 disbelief in Russia.

Vaccine feeling

Wide deployments are essential to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19, health experts say.

Respondents who would agree to receive a vaccine, if available

While coronavirus infections in Russia have been declining, slow acceptance of the vaccine leaves the country vulnerable to a further increase. Russia has had more than four million infections, the fourth highest in the world. Vaccine hesitancy runs the risk of undermining the government’s goal of inoculating about 60% of the population by the summer.

“We were on par with everyone else in the development of the vaccine, but now we are behind in its administration,” said Anton Gopka, dean of the faculty of technology management and innovations at ITMO University in St. Petersburg and general partner. from the healthcare investment firm ATEM. Capital. “In the end, the big risk is that the pandemic is prolonged here.”

That’s not a concern for Vadim Ivanov, a 55-year-old driver from the St. Petersburg city maintenance department. He does not trust the government or the health system and believes that the Covid-19 threat is exaggerated.

“I’m not going to get a vaccine because I don’t believe in the coronavirus; it’s all about deception, ”said Ivanov, who rarely wears a mask and rarely practices social distancing. “People say that everything is nonsense, that everything is crazy, that everything is made up.”

To speed up the launch, the Russian authorities eliminated priority vaccination groups and opened the vaccination campaign to everyone in January. Vaccination centers have been set up in food courts, opera houses, and shopping malls, and some outlets offer free ice cream for each injection.

“There is no shortage of vaccines,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, told reporters recently. “But you can’t say there is a rush” to get an injection, he said. Officials expect demand for Sputnik V to increase as more Russians learn about the benefits of the vaccine. In addition to Sputnik V, Russia has approved two other Covid-19 vaccines.

President Vladimir Putin will receive a vaccine in late summer or early fall, the Kremlin said.


Alexey Nikolsky / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who regularly praises the vaccine on national television and praises it in his conversations with foreign leaders, has yet to get vaccinated. The Kremlin has said Putin plans to get vaccinated in late summer or early fall after consulting with doctors.

“The government must do a better job of communicating the benefits of the vaccine,” Gopka said. “And, of course, people would feel more comfortable if the head of state accepted it.”

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The challenges of launching the shot across Russia’s vast landmass amid harsh winter conditions have also hampered the campaign. On Thursday, Putin said that nine of Russia’s 85 regions had not started vaccinating.

The Sputnik V shooting has faced challenges from the start. It was approved in August, just a few months after development began and before large-scale clinical trials were conducted. Then, when Russia began rolling it out in December, production problems meant the country was able to deliver only a fraction of the doses that officials had initially promised.

A peer-reviewed study, published last month in The Lancet, a British medical journal, showed that the vaccine was 91.6% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 and had no serious side effects. Meanwhile, Russian drug manufacturers have recently increased production. In fact, some analysts expect a vaccine glut if demand doesn’t increase.

Overseas, Russia has carried out a public relations campaign, including posting video updates in English and maintaining a Twitter account for Sputnik V. According to US officials, Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer. Inc.’s

and other Western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the development and safety of vaccines. The Kremlin denies these accusations.

More than 40 other countries have authorized Sputnik V for emergency use. Slovakia and Hungary, members of the European Union, approved Sputnik V and on Thursday the bloc’s drug regulator began a formal evaluation that could lead to the authorization of the injection.

But many Russians remain unconvinced.

Country Administered dose Proportion of population fully vaccinated Proportion of the population that received at least one dose

Source: Our World in Data

A poll released by independent pollster Levada Center this week showed that only 30% of Russians are willing to be shot by Sputnik V, up from 38% in December, and many cited concerns about possible side effects and doubts about the effects. clinical trials.

“The vaccine has not yet been fully tested and [the mass vaccination campaign] it is indeed a trial that is being carried out en masse against the residents of Russia without their knowledge, “said Tatyana Andreyeva, 39-year-old Kaliningrad human resources director. She said she will not be vaccinated.

Ms Andreyeva’s 10-year-old son fell ill with Covid-19 last October, but made a quick recovery without infecting the rest of the family. “I do not consider Covid to be a serious and highly contagious disease,” he said.

To counter skepticism about its Covid-19 vaccine, Russia has built a public relations effort at home and abroad. WSJ’s Georgi Kantchev explains why the success of Sputnik V is so important to the Kremlin. Photo: Juan Mabromata / AFP via Getty Images

Globally, Russians are among the biggest skeptics of vaccines. An Ipsos poll released in February showed that 42% of Russians would receive a vaccine, compared to 71% in the US and 57% in France.

In addition to doubts about Sputnik V itself, analysts cite a general lack of trust in the authorities and the health system.

Only 37% of Russians are satisfied with the quality of their healthcare system, compared to a world average of 65%, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.

After the end of the Soviet Union, funding for the healthcare system collapsed, many highly skilled medical professionals emigrated, and medical research slowed. In 2010, the government launched an ambitious plan to improve the quality of medical care in Russia and improve medical facilities. But by 2019, the number of available hospitals and beds declined, and officials said the quality of services had dramatically deteriorated.

“No one has touched the infrastructure of the system since the late 1950s,” Veronika Skvortsova, then Health Minister, said in 2019.

Mistrust in government is a legacy of Russia’s communist past, when Russians’ suspicion of the authorities led many to rely on word of mouth and other informal sources of information, according to Margarita Zavadskaya, a political science researcher at the European University of St.. Petersburg.

The Levada survey found that two-thirds of those surveyed believed that the coronavirus is a human-made biological weapon. Among Russians who tend to rely on family and friends for information, nearly three-quarters believe it is a biological weapon.

“There is an extremely low pattern of trust in all kinds of official authorities, other political institutions and the health system,” said Ms Zavadskaya.

Ms Andreyeva in Kaliningrad said she tries to avoid relying on Russian medical care in general.

“There is no help there, with rare exceptions,” he said. “The principle is: serve yourself.”

Write to Georgi Kantchev at [email protected]

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