Putin orders Russia to begin large-scale COVID-19 vaccinations next week
By Alexander Marrow and Andrey Ostroukh
MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin ordered an extensive voluntary COVID-19 vaccination program across Russia to begin next week. Teachers and doctors should come first to receive the country's flagship Sputnik V vaccine.
Putin gave the order during an online meeting with ministers on Wednesday, a day that Russia, which has the fourth highest number of registered infections in the world, recorded 589 new daily deaths from the coronavirus.
Putin said Russia will have produced 2 million doses of vaccine in the next few days.
Sputnik V, one of two vaccines made in Russia that has so far received national approval despite incomplete clinical studies, requires two injections. A third vaccine is also in the works.
Russia said last month that the Sputnik shock was 92% effective in protecting people from COVID-19, according to interim results.
"Let us agree - you will not contact me next week, but you will start large-scale vaccinations ... Let's get to work," Putin told Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova.
"I understand that you are using very cautious language and it is absolutely right that we are careful. But I know that the industry and the (health) network in general are ready. Let's take that first step."
Russia has already vaccinated more than 100,000 high-risk people, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said during a separate presentation to the United Nations about Sputnik V.
According to the presentation, more than 45,000 people are currently participating in Sputnik V studies worldwide.
The surge in infections in Russia has slowed since it hit a high on November 27. 25,345 new daily cases were reported on Wednesday.
Russia has refused to impose lockdowns during the second wave of the virus, favoring targeted regional curbs.
The Kremlin had previously given assurances that the Russians should be the first to be vaccinated, and Moscow was also discussing delivery agreements with other countries.
"The Russians have absolute priority," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. "The production in Russia, which is already being developed, meets the needs of the Russians."
Authorities in St. Petersburg, which reported 3,684 new infections on Wednesday, ordered bars and restaurants to close from December 30 to January 3 to counter the surge in cases there, the RIA reported.
Museums, theaters and concert halls would be closed to the public for the duration of the Russian New Year holiday from December 30th to January 10th in the city of more than 5 million people.
In Moscow, a distance learning phase for secondary school students has been extended beyond December 6 to the end of the year.
With 2,347,401 infections, Russia only has fewer COVID-19 cases than the US, India and Brazil. 41,053 deaths related to COVID-19 have been recorded since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh, Elena Fabrichnaya, Dmitry Antonov, Tom Balmforth and Polina Nikolskaya, additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Anton Zverev and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Alexander Marrow / Andrew Osborn; editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)
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