Every country has vaccine skeptics. In Russia, doctors are among them

Since then, only 15,000 people have been vaccinated, according to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. This means that, on average, each clinic inoculated about 15 people a day, a fraction of at least 271,000 people in priority groups vaccinated in the US in the first week.

The online registration forms for nine Moscow clinics reviewed by CNN showed a lot of free slots – even when they signed up to get the photo the next day. In two clinics visited by CNN last week, there was no queue for the vaccine, and both institutions occupied only one space, with five people presented by noon.

One vial of Sputnik V contains five doses and takes half an hour to thaw, according to the vaccine’s instructions. After that, it cannot be put back in the freezer and must be discarded if not in use, so clinics aim to administer the vaccine to a group of five, according to the packaging instructions.

“When I was shot, only two out of five people signed up [for that time slot] appeared, “Moscow journalist Nikita Sologub wrote on Twitter:” The other three thawed vaccines had to be thrown away. ”

The first shots of Sputnik V in Moscow were allocated primarily to health workers and teachers, but this list quickly expanded to cover other groups, including journalists and transport workers.

Reports from the local independent press also suggest that virtually anyone could sign up for the vaccine if they meet the health criteria, as checks on eligibility documents were apparently lax.

At this stage, Russia primarily vaccinates people between the ages of 18 and 60, without chronic health conditions. Last week, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko announced that all regions were “ready to accept [the vaccine] and vaccinated. “

Widespread mistrust

Empty waiting rooms in Moscow clinics and wasted photos could be symptoms of a bigger problem that Russia will have to face as the vaccination program expands nationwide: widespread distrust of its vaccine.

Russia approved its first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, in August, after testing dozens of people in a high-profile study on state television.

News of Sputnik V approval ahead of the large-scale phase 3 tests needed to test the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine drew considerable criticism from scientific and medical circles, who feared that Russia would shorten an established process for political gain and PR.

Sputnik V has been shown to be more than 90% effective in studies, according to its producers at the Gamaleya National Center for Epidemiology and Biology. But the data they provided has also been called into question, with some critics saying they may have been quick to keep up with the announcements of other vaccine manufacturers that were more advanced in the phase 3 studies. , such as the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed support for Sputnik V, saying it has already proven its effectiveness.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to launch large-scale vaccination on December 2, hours after Britain authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, signaling that mass inoculation will begin soon.

The name itself, Sputnik V, in honor of the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, recalls the early victory of the USSR in the space race with the United States.

Vaccine skeptics are a challenge for most governments that want to vaccinate most of their populations to control the coronavirus pandemic. In Russia, people who could persuade the general public to shoot are hard on board, with many health workers taking care of drugs.

“At this stage, I am not ready to get vaccinated, because the Russian vaccine is not transparent and its effectiveness has not been proven,” said Viktoria Alexandrova, a general practitioner in St. Petersburg. “And all this because of this absurd political race over who will get the vaccine sooner.

“So maybe in two years,” Alexandrova added.

Most of the Russian doctors and nurses CNN spoke to said they had concerns about the hasty registration process for the vaccine and would like to see more data before getting shot.

Putin has not yet received the Russian vaccine a few months after his daughter did it

“I recently recovered from Covid-19, so I still have antibodies,” said Natalya Romanenko, a nurse in the Chelyabinsk region. “None of my colleagues intend to get it now. I might get it later, but first we need to see how people handle it. ”

Scientists are still working to determine how much immunity antibodies to the virus could provide against reinfection. But Yulia Balovleva, a nurse in St. Petersburg, said she was “ready to get any vaccine” if it helped bring the pandemic to an end.

A survey conducted in late October by the independent Levada Center found that 59% of Russians surveyed did not want to be vaccinated if the vaccination was free and voluntary – a 4% increase over the same survey conducted in August.

Another poll published by the ruling United Russia party in October found that 73% of those surveyed did not intend to be vaccinated, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported. CNN did not independently analyze these survey data, but Russia’s recognition of public skepticism was striking, given the government’s efforts to promote the vaccine.

Break records

The patriotic messages of the Russian government at all stages of the pandemic fueled only the already deep-seated distrust of the public health system, with skeptical Russians relying on word of mouth and social media posts to find out how the country is facing in the middle pandemic. Vaccine tests were no exception, with volunteers going to Facebook and Telegram to exchange data and advice.

“What’s wrong with the Russian coronavirus vaccine? Surprisingly, it’s Putin, the rest is more or less good,” Leonid Volkov, the chief of staff of opposition politician Alexey Navalny, said in a YouTube video. “He has the worst PR campaign and the worst reputation among vaccines because of this crazy race to grab the palm of victory.

Putin has ordered his government to launch mass vaccination on December 2nd.

President Putin has repeatedly expressed support for Sputnik V, saying it has already proven its effectiveness.

“It simply came to our notice then [have mass vaccination]”Putin said at his annual news conference on Thursday.” And I repeat that our vaccine is effective and safe, so I see no reason not to vaccinate. ”

But the 68-year-old president has not yet received the vaccine alone. Speaking on Thursday, Putin confirmed that he has not yet been inoculated with Sputnik V, as it is not recommended for people over 60.

There are exceptions to this rule. The official Sputnik V Twitter account proudly announced that 74-year-old American director Oliver Stone, who is filming in Russia, is filming a documentary on climate change, has become “the first Oscar winner to be vaccinated with Sputnik V. ”

In addition to criticisms of the lack of transparency and data behind the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, some health workers are concerned about what an ambulance worker ironically described to CNN as “mandatory voluntary vaccination.”

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Russian public sector workers, often referred to as ‘budzhetniki’ or ‘budgeters’, because their salaries are paid from the state budget, are often found in the hands of the government seeking to increase participation in a project, whether it is elections or a pro-government demonstration.

According to internal documents, shared with CNN by an independent union called the Alliance of Physicians, at least two hospitals in Moscow have ordered all staff to be vaccinated, with department heads being required to have “explanatory” discussions with their teams about vaccine safety. .

The Moscow Department of Health said in a statement that all vaccinations are done voluntarily and that orders are only meant to “create the most comfortable conditions for [vaccination], as well as [underscore] the need for explanatory work “.

In a country where the health system is largely state-run and where the heads of state institutions have extraordinary authority, this type of pressure is significant.

The stakes are high: Russia is approaching 3 million registered cases as its mortality figures spiral, breaking records set during the spring outbreak. As of December 23, more than 52,000 people in Russia have officially died from the Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with data on excess mortality from official sources suggesting that this number could be three times higher.

In order to effectively vaccinate its population, Russia must inoculate 60% -70% of the approximately 146 million inhabitants, according to the country’s health minister. And to do this, it should not only win the logistical challenges of providing enough photos in its vast territory, but also the return of public opinion.