Russian President Vladimir Putin will chair a meeting on May 13, 2020 to focus on assisting the aviation industry and aviation at his land residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow.
Alexey Nikolsky | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON – Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to receive a coronavirus shot on Tuesday as the country’s vaccination strategy is surrounded by intrigue.
The Kremlin said it would not reveal the name of the vaccine Putin will receive, only that it would be one of three shots made in Russia.
“We deliberately do not say which shot the president will get, and we find that all three Russian vaccines are completely reliable and effective,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
There are three Russian vaccines – Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, and CoviVac – the latter two of which only recently received emergency approval.
The Russian president will likely get the vaccine on Tuesday evening, Peskov added. It is unclear whether he will be filmed when Peskov discovered that Putin did not like the idea of being vaccinated on camera.
Slow vaccine rollout
Vaccination comes when the country’s vaccination strategy takes center stage. On Monday, Putin praised the multimillion-dollar international sales of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid vaccine, but the country’s rollout appears to be sluggish and contrasts sharply with the large number of vaccines destined for the international market.
It was reported that Russia’s own manufacturing capacity is low, and Putin appeared to be nodding at it on Monday. He said Russia needs to ramp up domestic vaccine production and that household supplies are a priority, according to Reuters.
He found that 4.3 million people in the country had already received two doses of the vaccine. This is much higher than in the UK, for example, where around 2.3 million people have given both doses to date. However, Russia was the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine (Sputnik V) as early as August 2020, first shot in early December.
Russia faces a number of logistical challenges when introducing a vaccine. It is the largest country in the world and has around 144 million inhabitants in an area that stretches across Europe and northern Asia.
In early March, Putin found that all but nine Russian regions had started using the vaccine, with delays related to “problems with logistics, distribution (and) locations,” the Moscow Times reported.
Global data on vaccination programs shows that Russia is lagging behind many other countries in its own domestic rollout, with the number of single doses administered in Russia just above the number of doses administered in Bangladesh, according to Our World in Data.
Vaccination dates are highlighted as Russia was hit so hard by the pandemic: it has recorded the fourth highest number of cases in the world (over 4.4 million) and over 94,000 people have died of Covid in the country, according to Covid at Johns Hopkins University.
Another major problem hindering Russia’s adoption is citizens’ reluctance to adopt vaccines. Daragh McDowell, head of Europe and senior Russian analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC that the country’s lower vaccination rates “are likely due to public unwillingness to be skeptical about the vaccine rather than lack of supply.”
He noted that the latest data from the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Russia, suggests that only 30% of Russians are “ready to get vaccinated, a number that has actually decreased since last year”.
“This is mainly due to concerns about side effects and the inadequate testing of the vaccine. In other words, while the Kremlin received a boost in propaganda by bringing the vaccine out first, it came at the expense of doubts about its safety.” McDowell noticed.
A woman receives the second component of the Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik V) COVID-19 vaccine.
Valentin Sprinchak | TASS | Getty Images
Sputnik V was originally only approved in Russia for those ages 18 to 60, which means that 68-year-old Putin was too old to receive it. However, further studies in seniors found that the vaccine was safe in people 60 and older, and that the age group can now get the shot.
“The fact that Putin waited so long to be vaccinated himself is not going to go unnoticed and has contributed to these doubts,” added McDowell.
“The president’s vaccination will convince some Russians of the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety (but) high levels of social distrust and conspiratorial thinking will mitigate its effects.”
He stressed that the same survey data that showed that 30% of Russians were willing to be vaccinated also showed that nearly two-thirds believed Covid was artificially developed as a biological weapon.
International sales agreements
Another aspect of the Russian vaccine program that has attracted attention is the high number of international sales of its vaccine. On Monday, Putin confirmed that Russia had signed international sales agreements for Sputnik V cans for 700 million people.
RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund that backed the development and deployment of Sputnik V, announced Tuesday that Sputnik V has now been approved in 56 countries, with Vietnam being last on the list. Several Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Slovakia have also ordered Sputnik V cans.
In the meantime, the European Medicines Agency launched an ongoing review of Sputnik V earlier this month.
Verisk Maplecroft’s McDowell pointed out that while exporting 700 million cans is “an extremely ambitious figure,” it is likely that licensed products also made overseas, for example in India and South Korea.
Russian vaccine Sputnik V was approved by the Russian health authority in August last year before clinical trials were completed, leading to skepticism among experts that it may not meet strict safety and efficacy standards. Some experts argued that the Kremlin is keen to win the race to develop a Covid vaccine, an indictment it has brought against other countries. Russia has repeatedly stated that its vaccine is the target of anti-Russian sentiment.
Russia appeared to be confirmed in early February As an interim analysis of the 20,000-participant Phase 3 clinical trials of the shot was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet. The vaccine was found to be 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 infections.
In an accompanying article in the Lancet, Ian Jones, Professor of Virology at the University of Reading, England noted that “the development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for undue urgency. However, the result reported here is clear and scientific. The principle of vaccination is demonstrated which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19. “