As cases skyrocket in Russia, why are vaccination rates low? | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Anastasiya Kulchina refuses to be vaccinated against COVID.

The 72-year-old woman, a former nurse, says the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine was developed “suspiciously quickly”, although she admits her knowledge of virology is not “professional.”

“The vaccine is perfecting for us. I don’t want to be a guinea pig, ”Kulchina, a grandmother, told Al Jazeera.

Instead, she tries to stay away from people.

She lives secluded in her summer home outside of Moscow, planting zucchini, raspberries and flowers, binge-watching TV shows, or spending hours on the phone with her friends – most of whom are also reluctant to do so. vaccinate.

According to an April poll by pollster Levada Center, 62% of Russians do not want to be vaccinated and 56% are not afraid of contracting the virus.

This is particularly surprising given that Sputnik V was the world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine and was supplied to countries from Mongolia to Brazil.

“They are just as reliable as Kalashnikov assault rifles,” Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted in May.

Two more vaccines were developed in Russia by research facilities that once helped launch huge vaccination campaigns in the USSR and dozens of countries.

But Russia remains dramatically under-vaccinated.

Only 13% of Russians received both blows, compared to more than half of Americans and 87% of Icelanders.

Meanwhile, the most infectious Delta variant is setting new nationwide records of 143 million.

As of Monday, 21,650 new cases were confirmed, the highest number since January, with more than a third in Moscow. At least 611 dead, including a record 124 in Moscow.

Since the start of the pandemic, Russia has recorded nearly 5.5 million infections and some 133,000 deaths.

Why are so many people concerned about Putin-backed vaccine?

“They are not against vaccination, they are against bureaucratic campaigns. And they are protesting these campaigns not openly, but by sabotaging them, ”Pavel Luzin, a Russian expert from the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, DC think tank, told Al Jazeera.

Some experts blame the collective mentality. For centuries, Russians have distrusted their authoritarian rulers, and passive resistance to coercion has often remained the only form of protest.

“What is happening is not about anti-vaccines. It is a diagnosis of the current model of government of the country and the relations between the government and the public ”, wrote the medical expert Piotr Talantov in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

According to Denis Volkov, director of Levada, “mistrust” of the president and his government in most cases means reluctance to be vaccinated.

However, one strong vaccine advocate disagrees with this simple explanation.

“That might be one of the factors, but it’s not really a priority,” Elena Savinova, who runs the popular @VaccinesNoNonsense blog, told Al Jazeera.

She lives in Finland and says the Russians there – and in neighboring Estonia – have the lowest vaccination rates.

After years of studying online groups of Russian vaccine-deniers of all stripes, she concluded that they believed that “the globalists – like the tentacles of the octopus – have reached Russia, and that they should be kicked out of the country. government ”.

People against the vaccine are “much more conservative than those who get the vaccine,” she said.

New restrictions

Authorities have tried both the carrot and the stick to curb the outbreak.

In some areas, authorities are luring people to immunization centers with petty cash, gift certificates, bonus miles, lotteries, and free tickets to cinemas or museums.

And on Monday, a new wave of restrictions went into effect in the epidemic’s biggest focus – Moscow.

Three-fifths of officials will receive mandatory vaccinations, while restaurants will only let customers in with vaccination certificates, a negative test, or a document proving they have had COVID-19 in the past six months.

Violators will be fined $ 70.

“There will only be a handful of visitors, and I will go bankrupt,” Talgat Durmonov, owner of a basement cafe serving Central Asian cuisine near one of the restaurants, told Al Jazeera. Moscow train stations.

All service sector workers in stores, post offices, banks and educational institutions will have to receive both vaccines by August 15 – or lose their jobs.

The mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, urged Muscovites to support this “extremely difficult decision, but necessary and responsible”.

But like in many other countries, physical distancing and lockdown measures have been lifted and then removed, only to return, as the virus rises and falls.

In November, Sobyanin proclaimed that Moscow was “close to victory” over COVID, and restaurants, theaters and gymnasiums opened.

Those doors were closed in the spring of 2020, when Muscovites were allowed to leave their homes only with digital permits.

The restrictions were relaxed, however, when the Russians voted in the July 1 referendum that “canceled” Putin’s previous presidential terms, allowing him to remain in power until 2036.

Another inconsistency is geographic.

As Moscow braces for further restrictions, Russia’s second-largest city has just staged what epidemiologists are calling a “super-diffusion event.”

On June 25, tens of thousands of people of all ages – most without masks – joined high school students for an annual graduation festival in St. Petersburg.

“The city will hold on! Russia will be strong! Mayor Alexander Beglov told a crowd that gathered in the city’s Palace Square, neglecting social distancing.

The only people fined for not wearing masks were two protesters who unfurled anti-Putin banners, reported.

Two days later, the city of four million people recorded a record 1,298 infections.

Meanwhile, the Russian black market has responded to the new restrictions with dozens of offers of fake vaccination certificates which can be obtained through anonymous Telegram channels.

Prices range between $ 150 and $ 300, and sellers promise that a buyer’s name will appear in an online government database within days.

“You will receive the certificate tomorrow and your name will be in the database by Friday,” one of the vendors who operate the Spravka_Ree Telegram channel told Al Jazeera.

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