By Daria Litvinova | Associated press
MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin revealed on Wednesday that he received the nationally developed Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, stressing the importance of getting the vaccine amid a wave of new coronavirus infections and deaths in Russia.
On an annual phone show answering pore-examined questions, Putin expressed hope that the vaccination campaign could help avoid a nationwide lockdown.
Russia reported 21,042 new infections and 669 deaths on Wednesday – numbers similar to the numbers it has been reporting daily since June 24. The number of reported deaths was a single-day record for the country.
While reaffirming his position that vaccinations should be voluntary, Putin stressed that decisions by local authorities in regions of Russia that have made vaccines mandatory for some workers should help stem the tide.
These decisions were based on the law and “aimed at avoiding the need for a foreclosure, when entire businesses shut down and people find themselves without jobs, without pay,” Putin said.
Russian officials attributed the increase in the number of cases to Russians’ lax attitude towards taking precautions, the increasing prevalence of more infectious variants and reluctance to vaccinate. Although Russia was among the first countries to announce and deploy a vaccine against the coronavirus, just over 23 million people – or 15% of its 146 million population – have received at least one injection.
Experts attributed this to mistrust of rushed approval of Russian-made vaccines and limited production capacity.
Putin said he initially did not identify the vaccine he received to avoid offering a competitive advantage to its manufacturer.
“But I see there are a lot of questions,” the president said.
Putin got his first shot in late March and his second in mid-April, both out of sight.
On Wednesday, Putin said he had not consulted his doctors “so much” on which vaccine to take, but rather considered the choices made by his acquaintances. He said he went for Sputnik V because it offered the longer protection of the two jabs available to the Russians at the time.
“Especially since our armed forces are vaccinated with Sputnik V, and I am the commander-in-chief, after all,” he said with a laugh.
Russia gave regulatory approval to the Spuntik V in August 2020, and it faced criticism at home and abroad because it had only been tested on a few dozen people at the time. However, criticism has been blunted by a report published this year in the British medical journal The Lancet, which found large-scale testing to be safe, with an effectiveness rate of 91%.
Its single-dose version, Sputnik Light, was approved last month and was released earlier this month.
Two other Russian vaccines – EpiVacCorona and CoviVac – also received regulatory approval before completing late-stage trials. No data on the effectiveness of these two vaccines has been published, and Spuntik V remains the most widely used coronavirus vaccine in the country.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia’s four vaccines were “state of the art, safe and quite effective.”
It is not yet clear whether Russia will have enough vaccines to cope with increased demand. Several regions have already reported shortages, but the Kremlin assured that these were only temporary logistical difficulties.
Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said on Tuesday that to date 36.7 million sets of the four nationally developed coronavirus vaccines have been marketed in Russia.
In the midst of the latest wave of cases, about 20 Russian regions – from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the remote far-eastern region of Sakhalin – made vaccinations mandatory this month for employees in certain industries. The move apparently helped speed up the vaccination campaign in recent weeks, but also caused some setback.
As of Monday, restaurants, bars and cafes in Moscow can only admit customers who have been vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or can provide a negative test within the previous 72 hours. Customers must visit a government website and obtain a QR code, a digital model designed to be read by a scanner.
In a dealership, city officials agreed that QR codes are not needed for customers using the outdoor terraces. Underage clients will not have to provide any documents if they are with their parents.
Small protests against mandatory vaccinations erupted in Moscow and the Sakhalin region this week.