Push to get wary Russians vaccinated leaves some COVID clinics short
VLADIMIR, Russia (Reuters) – Alexander tried three times over 10 days to get his first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in his home town of Vladimir. Twice, supplies ran out as he was standing in the queue.
“People line up from 4 a.m. although the centre opens at 10 a.m.,” the 33-year-old said, as he finally entered the walk-in vaccination room in the town, where gold-domed medieval churches attract crowds of tourists in normal years.
A third wave of COVID-19 infections has lifted reported daily deaths in Russia to record highs in recent weeks and sluggish demand for vaccines from a wary population has finally begun to grow with a big official push to boost uptake.
The switch poses a challenge for Russia, which has signed contracts to supply Sputnik V to countries around the world.
With vaccination now compulsory in some Russian regions for people working in jobs involving close contact with the public such as waiters and taxi drivers, shortages have appeared.
“At the last minute we all decided to get vaccinated at the same time,” Maria Koltunova, a representative of the Vladimir regional health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor told reporters on July 16. “This has caused a problem.”
Late last month, after several Russian regions reported shortages of the vaccine, the Kremlin blamed them on growing demand and storage difficulties which it said would be resolved in the coming days.
At the appointment desks of four clinics in different towns in the wider Vladimir region last week, Reuters was told that no shots were available at this time. The earliest appointments available were next month, all said they could not give a date.
The industry ministry said it was working with the health ministry to close the demand gap in places where it had jumped. The health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Russia is producing 30 million sets of doses per month, the industry ministry said, and can gradually scale that up to a monthly figure of 45-40 million doses over the next few months.
Overall, almost 44 million full doses of all vaccines have been released for the vaccination of Russia’s 144 million people, the industry minister said last week.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered the government on Monday to check what vaccines were available.
The country does not provide data for vaccine exports and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for marketing the vaccine abroad, declined to comment.
A laboratory in India said last week the country’s full rollout would have to be put on hold until the Russia producer provides equal quantities of its two doses, which are different sizes.
Argentina and Guatemala have also reported delays to promised supplies.
Despite launching its vaccine rollout in January and approving four homegrown vaccines for domestic use, Russia had given only around 21% of its entire population one shot by July 9, according to data provided by health minister Mikhail Murashko, although counting only adults, that would be higher.
The Kremlin earlier cited ‘nihilism’ among the population; some Russians have cited distrust, both of new drugs and government programmes.
Around 12% of the 1.4 million people in the Vladimir region 200 km (125 miles) east of Moscow had been vaccinated by July 12, data provided by local officials showed. Some people said the sudden uptick in demand for shots was due to a spate of government policies.
These included a week-long regional requirement to prove vaccination against, or recent recovery from, COVID-19 with QR codes to enter cafes and other venues. The policy was cancelled amid an outcry from business and shortages of vaccine.
The region also ordered some public sector and service sector businesses to inoculate at least 60% of their employees with one dose by August 15. Cafe owners Dmitry Bolshakov and Alexander Yuriev said oral recommendations came earlier.
Third-time lucky vaccine recipient Alexander, who gave only his first name due to the sensitivity of the issue, said he had queued for the shot of his own accord after his local clinic said it could not offer one until late August.
But nine out of 12 people approached by Reuters at the city’s vaccination centres said they did not want to be vaccinated but had been pressured by their employers. The local governor’s office and the health department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In one Vladimir café called ZZZed, owner Yuriev had, along with officials, set up a centre for vaccinations, starting with the city’s restaurant workers. People filled out their consent forms sitting at the bar, under a disco ball.
“We have a queue now of about 1,000 people,” Yuriev said. With demand up, shortages of shots are the next obstacle. “We are limited by the lack of vaccines in the region,” he said.
The acting head of the local health watchdog, Yulia Potselueva, told reporters on July 16 that the problem of vaccine supply would be solved in the near future.
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