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 from vaccinated priority groups in the United States in the first week.
Online registration forms for nine clinics in Moscow analyzed by CNN showed plenty of free places – even when you sign up for the injection the next day. At two clinics visited by CNN last week, there was no line for the vaccine, and the two institutions filled only one spot, with five people showing up at noon.
One vial of Sputnik V contains five doses and takes half an hour to thaw, according to the vaccine instructions. After that, it cannot be put back in the freezer and must be discarded if not used, so clinics plan to administer the vaccine in a group of five at a time, according to the instructions on the package.
“When I was getting my chance, only two out of five people who signed up [for that time slot] “tweeted Moscow journalist Nikita Sologub.” The other three thawed vaccines had to be discarded. ”
The first shots of Sputnik V in Moscow were allocated mainly to health professionals and teachers, but that list quickly expanded to cover other groups, including journalists and transport workers.
Reports from independent local media also suggest that virtually anyone could apply to receive the vaccine if they meet the health criteria, as paperwork checks for eligibility appear to have been negligent.
At this stage, Russia is vaccinating mainly people aged between 18 and 60 years without chronic health conditions. Last week, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko announced that all regions are “ready to accept [the vaccine] and vaccinate. “
Empty waiting rooms in Moscow clinics and missed injections could be symptoms of a bigger problem Russia will face as the vaccination program expands across the country: widespread distrust of its vaccine.
Russia approved its first Covid-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, in August, after testing it on several dozen people in a study with great fanfare on state TV.
Sputnik V has shown more than 90% effectiveness in tests, according to its manufacturers at the National Center for Epidemiology and Biology in Gamaleya. But the data they provided was also questioned, with some critics saying they may have been rushed in an effort to keep up with ads from other vaccine producers who were further ahead in Phase 3 tests, such as the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine .
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to implement large-scale vaccination on December 2, hours after the United Kingdom authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, signaling that it will soon begin to inoculate en masse.
The name itself, Sputnik V, in honor of the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union, is reminiscent of the early victory of the USSR in the space race with the United States.
Vaccination skeptics pose a challenge to most governments that seek to vaccinate the majority of their populations to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check. In Russia, the same people who could persuade the general public to make the injection are hardly on board, with many health professionals wary of the drug.
“At this stage, I am not ready to be vaccinated, as the Russian vaccine is not transparent and its effectiveness has not been proven,” said Viktoria Alexandrova, general practitioner in St. Petersburg. “And all of this because of this absurd political race over who will get the vaccine the fastest.
“So, maybe in two years,” added Alexandrova.
Most of the Russian doctors and nurses with whom CNN spoke said they had concerns about the rushed registration process for using the vaccine and would like to see more data before getting the vaccine.
“I recently recovered from Covid-19, so I still have antibodies,” said Natalya Romanenko, a nurse in the Chelyabinsk region. “None of my colleagues are planning to get it now. I can get it later, but first we need to see how people handle it.”
Scientists are still working to establish how much immunity antibodies to the virus can provide against reinfection. But Yulia Balovleva, a nurse in St. Petersburg, said she is “ready to get any vaccine” if it helps to bring the pandemic closer to an end.
A survey carried out in late October by the independent Levada Center found that 59% of Russians interviewed do not want to be vaccinated if vaccination is free and voluntary – a 4% increase from the same survey conducted in August.
Another survey made public by the ruling United Russia party in October revealed that 73% of people interviewed did not plan to be vaccinated, reported Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. CNN did not independently review the survey data, but the recognition of United Russia’s public skepticism was impressive, given the government’s total effort to promote the vaccine.
“What’s wrong with the Russian coronavirus vaccine? Surprisingly, it’s Putin, the rest is more or less well,” said Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to opposition politician Alexey Navalny, in a YouTube video. “It has the worst public relations campaign and the worst reputation among vaccines because of this insane race to grab the victory palm.”
President Putin has repeatedly expressed support for Sputnik V, saying he has already proven its effectiveness.
“I think it is necessary [have mass vaccination]”Putin said during his annual press 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 taken the vaccine himself. Speaking on Thursday, Putin confirmed that he has not yet been vaccinated 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 American filmmaker Oliver Stone, 74, who is in Russia shooting a documentary on climate change, has become “the first Oscar winner to be vaccinated with Sputnik V.”
In addition to criticism about the lack of transparency and data behind the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, some health professionals are concerned about what an ambulance worker ironically described to CNN as “mandatory voluntary vaccination”.
Public sector workers in Russia, often called “budzhetniki” or “budget workers”, as their salaries are paid from the state budget, often find themselves as a tool in the hands of the government that seeks to increase participation on a project, be it elections or a pro-government demonstration.
According to internal documents, shared with CNN by an independent union called the Alliance of Doctors, at least two hospitals in Moscow have ordered all their employees to be vaccinated, with department heads forced to hold “explanatory” lectures with their teams on the vaccine safety.
The Moscow Department of Health said in a statement that all vaccines are made voluntarily and that the orders are only intended to “create the most comfortable conditions for [vaccination], as [underscore] the need for explanatory work. “
In a country where the health care system is largely administered by the state and where the institutions of the heads of state exercise tremendous authority, this type of pressure is significant.
The stakes are high: Russia is approaching 3 million registered cases while its mortality numbers are rising, breaking records set during the spring outbreak. On December 23, more than 52,000 people in Russia have officially died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began, with excessive mortality data from official sources suggesting that that number could be up to three times higher.
To effectively vaccinate its population, Russia needs to inoculate 60% -70% of its population of approximately 146 million, according to the country’s health minister. And to do that, it would not only have to overcome the logistical challenges of making enough shots in its vast territory, but also to turn public opinion around.