Putin’s COVID-19 vaccination to be kept out of public eye

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Russian President Vladimir Putin “doesn’t like” the idea of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 on camera and will be getting his shot out of the public eye on Tuesday, his spokesman says

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin will be getting his first vaccination against COVID-19 on Tuesday, but out of sight of the cameras, his spokesman said, prompting questions about whether the gesture will boost comparatively low immunization rates in Russia.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call that “when it comes to getting vaccinated on camera, he has never supported that, he doesn’t like that.”

Peskov wouldn’t reveal whether Putin will go to a vaccination facility or the shot will be brought to him in his office or residence, saying only that “it will done in a way that would the least affect” Putin’s working schedule.

Putin announced that he would get vaccinated at a government meeting the day before. The statement came several months after widespread immunization against COVID-19 kicked off in Russia. Kremlin critics have argued that Putin’s reluctance to get vaccinated was contributing to the already existing hesitancy about the vaccine.

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Only 6.3 million people, or 4.3% of Russia’s 146-million population, have received at least one dose of a vaccine. It lags behind a number of other countries in terms of the vaccination rate. Surveys by Russia’s top independent pollster, Levada Center, have shown that the number of Russians reluctant to get vaccinated with the domestically developed Sputnik V shot has grown in recent months — to 62% in February from 58% in December.

Pressed by reporters over whether Putin should get vaccinated on camera in order to boost slow vaccination rates, Peskov argued that Russians “will hear” about the president’s vaccination and that Putin is already doing “a lot” for promoting the vaccination campaign.

The Kremlin spokesman refused to reveal which of the three vaccines authorized for use in Russia Putin will receive, saying only that all three are “absolutely good, reliable, effective.”

Russian authorities have given regulatory approval to three domestically developed shots — Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac. All three received the authorization before completing advanced trials experts say are necessary to ensure their safety and effectiveness in line with established scientific protocol.

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However, a recent study in the British medical journal the Lancet showed that Sputnik V is 91% effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19, although it’s still unclear whether the vaccine can prevent the spread of the disease. No data on efficacy of the two other vaccines have been released.

Russia has been actively marketing Sputnik V abroad, despite the slow rollout at home and limited production capacities. Dozens of countries have approved the use of Sputnik V, and many signed deals with the Russian Direct Investment Fund that bankrolled the vaccine to get shipments of the shot.

The fund said Tuesday it has submitted a request for Sputnik V to be part of the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX. The shot first needs to be endorsed by the World Health Organization, which is still in the process of reviewing data provided by Russia.

Exporting the vaccines has not been without delays and some questioned whether Moscow had the capacity to deliver on its promises. In Russia, state media and government officials boasted about the international success of the shot that came despite initial criticism of Sputnik V’s hasty introduction.

Peskov said Tuesday that Sputnik V was “so sought-after” that Russia’s production “can’t cope with the demand from abroad.”

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To boost production, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has signed agreements with manufacturers in a number of countries including India, Brazil, South Korea and most recently Italy. Putin said on Monday such agreements amounted to a total of 700 million vaccines a year.

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