Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at military planes flying over the Kremlin and Red Square to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Moscow, May 9, 2020.

Alexey Druzhinin | AFP | Getty Images

President Vladimir Putin ruled that Russia will not require its citizens to be vaccinated against Covid, saying people should realize the need to vaccinate for themselves.

Some officials in Russia had suggested making vaccination compulsory, but Putin said on Wednesday that such a move would be “counterproductive”.

During a video conference on the economy, Putin said officials were analyzing options, including compulsory vaccination for the entire population or for workers in certain sectors who come into contact with many people, Russian news agency Tass reported.

This could result in compulsory covid recordings for people who work in areas such as retail, education, or transportation. Putin said he did not approve of such a move.

“In my opinion it is counterproductive and unnecessary to introduce vaccination requirements,” he said. “People should recognize this need for themselves” and understand that without a vaccine they “may be at very serious and even fatal danger”, especially the elderly.

Putin urged the public to get vaccinated, stressing that Russian Sputnik V vaccine is safe.

“I would like to emphasize again and appeal to all of our citizens: think carefully, remember that the Russian vaccine – practice has already shown that millions (of people) have used it – is currently the most reliable and safest” said Putin. “In our country, all the conditions for a vaccination are in place.”

Vaccine hesitate

Despite requests from the president and other senior officials and the installation of walk-in vaccination centers in shopping malls in major cities, Russia has found that much of its population is reluctant to get a Covid vaccination.

Some officials have tried more unusual means to persuade the reluctants: Moscow is offering free ice cream in Red Square to anyone who has vaccinated, and shopping vouchers or gift cards worth 1,000 rubles (around $ 13.60) for retirees. Some Russian regions have reportedly offered monetary incentives to get the shot.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin openly vented his frustration at the slow response to vaccinations.

“It’s remarkable … people get sick, they keep getting sick, they keep dying. And yet they don’t want to get vaccinated,” Sobyanin said in comments posted on a video blog on Friday and by. reported to Reuters.

“We were the first big city in the world to announce the start of mass vaccination. And what?” said Sobyanin. “The proportion of people vaccinated in Moscow is lower than in any European city. In some cases many times as much.”

He found that so far only 1.3 million people in Moscow out of 12 million people have received an injection.

As of Wednesday, just over 11% of the Russian population had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Our World In Data. This is similar to India, which has also struggled to get its vaccination program off the ground due to production problems, but is lagging behind other major economies. The UK, for example, has given at least one dose to over 70% of its population.

The home of Sputnik V

That frustration is more palpable in Russia, as it became one of the first countries in the world to approve a Covid vaccine last August. Initially, there were concerns about the safety and effectiveness of Sputnik V, particularly with Russia approving the shot before clinical trials were completed, a move that aroused suspicion in the international scientific community.

However, the Sputnik-V vaccine was found to be 91.6% effective in preventing the development of Covid-19, according to peer-reviewed results from its late-stage clinical study published in February in the medical journal The Lancet.

Even so, a poll published in March by Russian electoral center Levada found that 62% of people did not want to receive the vaccine, with 18- to 24-year-olds most reluctant to receive it.