Kremlin's apathy and mistrust leaves Russians unvaccinated

MOSCOW – After Sofia Kravetskaya got vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine last December, she has become an outcast on the Mosco...


MOSCOW – After Sofia Kravetskaya got vaccinated with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine last December, she has become an outcast on the Moscow playground where she takes her young daughter.

“When I mentioned that I volunteered for the trials and had my first injection, people started running away from me,” she said. “They believed that if you were vaccinated the virus is in you and you are contagious. “

For Ms Kravetskaya, 36, the reaction reflected widespread mistrust of Russian authorities that has metastasized since the start of the pandemic last year. This skepticism, according to pollsters and sociologists, is the main reason why only a third of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, despite the availability of free vaccines.

The reluctance to get vaccinated is producing an alarming increase, experts say. Russia surpassed 1,000 deaths in 24 hours on Saturday for the first time since the start of the pandemic. (Britain, with just under half the population, recorded 57 deaths in a recent 24-hour period.) Russia on Monday broke a new record with more than 34,000 new infections recorded within the previous 24 hours.

Only about 42 million of Russia’s 146 million inhabitants were fully vaccinatedPrime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said last week, a rate well below that of the United States and most countries in the European Union.

But even with a record death toll, the government imposed few restrictions and its vaccination campaign failed, sociologists say, due to a combination of apathy and mistrust.

“About 40% of Russians do not trust the government, and these people are among the most active people who refuse vaccines,” said Denis Volkov, director of the Levada Center, an independent polling station. In August, one of his polls showed that 52% of Russians were not interested in getting the vaccine.

“It’s about trust and approval in the government and the president,” he said. “Those who trust, they are much more ready to do it.”

Some demographers have questioned the veracity figures reported by the government, which further undermines its credibility. Russia’s statistics agency said on Friday, for example, that more than 43,500 people died from Covid-19 in August. But another public body, the National Covid-19 Task Force, initially recorded fewer than 25,000 deaths this month, according to calculations by the Independent Moscow Times. The differences leave the Russians unsure of which numbers to trust.

The Kremlin is worried about the rising numbers. President Vladimir V. Putin called on parliamentarians to promote immunization last week, saying: “People trust and listen to your advice and recommendations.”

But in a rare critique of Kremlin policy, Speaker of Parliament and Putin’s ally Pyotr O. Tolstoy said the “we told you, you do” approach was not working.

“Unfortunately, we have carried out a whole information campaign on the coronavirus in Russia in an incorrect and completely lost way,” he told a pro-government TV station on Saturday. “People have no confidence in going for the vaccine, that’s a fact.”

Any further push to encourage vaccinations may be way behind the curve, Volkov said. The government’s initial nonchalance about the pandemic created a casual view of the virus among too many Russians.

“From the start, there was no specific message that Covid-19 is harmful,” Mr. Volkov said. “That momentum has been lost, and now it’s very difficult to implement.”

He noted that Mr Putin, as well as influential politicians and public figures, were not the first to receive the vaccine. Mr. Putin has been vaccinated behind closed doors in March, only announcing at the end of June that it was with Sputnik V, although the Russian Ministry of Health approved the jab in August 2020.

In general, the position of the Kremlin has been that regional governors should impose restrictions. Thirty-eight of Russia’s 85 regions have introduced some form of mandate for public employees. In some, events of more than 2,000 or 3,000 have been banned.

But restrictive mitigation measures have largely been avoided. Over the summer, the Moscow government imposed an order requiring 60% of service workers to be vaccinated, but critics say it is not being enforced. In August, the mayor canceled a short-lived program linking access to indoor sites to QR codes proving vaccination because it was so unpopular.

The government is reluctant to impose restrictions because it does not want to “play with this majority of people”, who oppose it, said Aleksandra Arkhipova, a social anthropologist who studies Covid-related disinformation at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economics and Public Administration.

She said her research showed that many Russians believe political concerns, rather than epidemiology, drive policy. For example, she said, restrictions were relaxed ahead of the September parliamentary elections, which she and others saw as a political step to ensure that the ruling United Russia party did not lose its power. support.

“Like other issues, the coronavirus has become a tool in political games,” said Vasily Vaibert, a 33-year-old hairdresser in Moscow.

He said he believed the same principle was in effect in the summer of 2020 when restrictions were relaxed before a referendum on constitutional amendments, including one allowing Mr. Putin to rule until 2036.

Ms Arkhipova suggested another possible reason for the low level of immunization: a waning sense of social responsibility in the three decades following the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union.

“The Russians are no longer a people of the collective”, she declared. “Now people have become quite individualistic and the concept of ‘public good’ is very difficult to explain. “

Finally, said Ms Arkhipova, the Russians are skeptical about the Sputnik V vaccine himself. While 70 countries have approved Sputnik V, According to its developer, the state-backed Russian Direct Investment Fund, there was a lot of initial mistrust of the vaccine due to the secretive and unusually rapid process of its development and approval in Russia. It is not accepted by the European Union, the United States or the World Health Organization.

“People are directly afraid of Sputnik V, not all vaccines,” she said.

Western vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are not available in Russia.

Ms Kravetskaya, who is a designer, said she was willing to try Sputnik V because her husband at the time and her daughter’s nanny were considered to be at higher risk of problems if they contracted Covid-19. She also has trusted friends who work as chemists and biologists who inspired her to give it a try. But she said she did not trust the Russian authorities.

“I have great confidence in the technologies used for vaccines, especially if they are Western,” she said.

Ms Kravetskaya said some of her friends bought fake vaccine certificates rather than taking one of the many vaccines made in Russia. The channels of the Telegram chat app offer fake vaccination certificates for 2,000 rubles ($ 28), or 5000 rubles ($ 70) with a QR code.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Kremlin's apathy and mistrust leaves Russians unvaccinated
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