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Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Gets Mixed Reaction

A Russian medical worker, center, shows a vial with Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to the media prior to a shot in a hospital in Vladivostok, Russia, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Aleksander Khitrov )
A Russian medical worker, center, shows a vial with Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to the media prior to a shot in a hospital in Vladivostok, Russia, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Aleksander Khitrov )
Russia's COVID-19 Vaccine Gets Mixed Reaction
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People in the United States and Europe welcomed the arrival of the western-made coronavirus vaccine. However, the Russian-made vaccine has not been as popular in Russia.

There are reports of empty medical centers that offer the vaccine to health care workers and teachers. These groups are the first members of the public permitted to receive it.

Russian officials and state-controlled media said the Sputnik V vaccine was a major development. It was approved on August 11. But among Russians, there is concern about the vaccine. Some fear it was hurried to the public while it was still being tested for effectiveness and safety.

Russia faced international criticism for approving a vaccine for tens of thousands of people that had not completed all its testing. Experts both in Russia and worldwide warned against its use until the tests are completed.

Russian officials started offering the vaccine to some high-risk groups, such as medical workers, within weeks of its approval. Alexander Gintsburg is the head of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine. He said recently that over 150,000 Russians have been vaccinated with it.

One person who received the shot was Dr. Alexander Zatsepin. He is a critical care specialist in Voronezh, a city 500 kilometers south of Moscow. He received it in October.

“We’ve been working with COVID-19 patients since March, and every day when we come home, we worry about infecting our family members. So, when some kind of opportunity to protect them and myself appeared, I thought it should be used,” he said.

He also said he still makes efforts to protect against infection because studies of the vaccine’s effectiveness are not over.

“There is no absolute confidence yet,” he said.

After Britain announced December 2 that it had approved a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, President Vladimir Putin told officials to start a large inoculation campaign. Many believe this was a sign of the government’s desire to be at the front of the race against the pandemic.

Russia approved its vaccine after it was tested on only about 20 people, saying it was “the first in the world” to receive approval. Drug-makers named it “Sputnik V.” Sputnik was the name given to the world’s first man-made satellite launched by the former Soviet Union in 1957.

But the vaccine is about more than national pride.

Russia has had more than 2.7 million cases of COVID-19 and over 49,000 deaths. The country also wants to avoid another damaging lockdown of its economy.

On December 2, Putin announced a target of over 2 million shots in the days ahead. However, Russia’s population is 146 million.

Shots are free to everyone in schools or in health centers, social and city workers, service workers and artists.

The European Medicines Agency said it has not received a request from the vaccine makers to license it for use in the European Union. The Russians did, however, share information about their vaccine with the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The Russian vaccine is reportedly under consideration for use in a worldwide effort led by the WHO to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries.

Its developers have said testing suggests the vaccine was 91 percent effective. The number comes from testing on 78 infections among nearly 23,000 participants. That is far fewer cases than Western drug-makers used in testing.

Some experts say public trust may be an issue.

“I don’t so much worry about Sputnik V being unsafe or less effective than we need it to be,” said Judy Twigg. She is a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in worldwide health issues.

“I worry about whether or not people are going to be willing to take it in Russia,” she said.

A study in October by the Russian Levada Center showed that 59 percent of Russians were unwilling to get the shots even if they were offered for free.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported on this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

absolute – adj. complete and total

inoculate – v. to give a person a weakened form of a disease in order to prevent infection by that disease

pride – n. a feeling of respect for yourself or your nation and a belief that such respect should be shared by others

license –v. to give officials permission to another group to use or produce something through an agreement

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