Russia’s New COVID-19 Problem: Convincing People to Take Its Vaccine

Alexey Nikolsky / Getty
MOSCOW - All of Yekaterina Mazalova's friends tried to dissuade her from participating in a clinical trial for Sputnik V, the Russian coronavirus vaccine. "Don't become a rabbit for experiments," said her best friend.
In the summer, Russia claimed to be the first country in the world to approve a vaccine before the trials even started. As security, President Vladimir Putin said his daughter took the shot. The early missteps in announcing and launching the vaccine only added to the problem that is now emerging: 45 percent of Russians are skeptical of Sputnik V.
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The public fear of the vaccine falls into several categories, according to experts. Some view it as poorly researched and succumb to conspiracy theories. "Many don't believe that the authorities will publish all the data or tell people the whole truth," Alexander Ivanov, a research fellow at the Moscow Institute of Molecular Biology, said in an interview with The Daily Beast about the low level of public trust. "There are blank spots and questions for research - but given the spreading pandemic of 1.6 million victims, it makes sense to resume mass vaccination as soon as possible."
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Mazalova did not listen to her dubious friends and took a risk. She flew to Moscow to get her first shot as a volunteer in the trials in mid-October. "The first night after the shot, my temperature rose to 38.1 (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and after the second shot almost a month later, I felt pain in my arm for a few days," Mazalova told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. "I stayed away from alcohol for a month, continued to wear a mask, and distanced myself in public places," she said. A month after the shot, tests showed she had antibodies. "I am very happy that I took part in the experiment. I am now immune to COVID-19."
Sputnik V is available to Russian teachers, doctors, social workers and salespeople as the frontline workers hardest hit by the virus. Hundreds of thousands of doses of Sputnik V are distributed across the country. It costs $ 20 for foreigners while citizens can be bumped into for free. Putin said last week that he hasn't had the vaccine yet but will take it when it's approved for people over 65.
Almost three million Russians have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. According to official figures, more than 47,000 people have died. Many Russian regions are increasingly suffering from critical shortages of ventilators, oxygen and medication. St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city with a population of 4.9 million, is currently experiencing the country's worst outbreak. As of Tuesday, there were only 27 open hospital beds for COVID-19 patients across the city. In December, the city diagnosed nearly 4,000 new cases every day.
Varvara Pakhomenko flew from Canada to her Siberian hometown of Tomsk as soon as she heard that both her mother and stepfather were sick and coughing. In early November, hospitals did not admit patients in the city of roughly half a million people. Pakhomenko, who had no medical training, turned her mother's apartment into an intensive care unit and even found an oxygen machine that allowed her patients to breathe at home. “Little did I know the situation was going to be so hellish: pharmacies had no paracetamol, no antibiotics, no vitamins, doctors didn't come to visit, hospitals had no place to take my family members even if they were in a severe condition “Said Parkhomenko to The Daily Beast. (Her parents have almost recovered since then.)
The hospital room is running out. In Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow, authorities turned 34 clinics into COVID-19 wards. At the beginning of November, 89 percent of the beds for infected patients were occupied. In many cases, patients had to wait an hour or more for ambulances. A young private doctor, Andrey Monakhov, has visited over 1,000 patients with coronavirus at home in the past few months. "The question is not whether or not you should be taking the vaccine, but whether it will help or not - I would say go and take it," Monakhov told The Daily Beast.
There are 70 clinics offering Sputnik V in Moscow. Authorities advise people to adhere to the quarantine rules, stay away from alcohol, and give their immune systems serious support for 42 days after vaccination.
A 67-year-old historian, Olga Fedorava, decided to risk it simply because she couldn't live without seeing her students - as soon as the teacher had a chance, she took Sputnik V. “My nose ran after the first shot, and so did I. had a bit of a fever after the second shot and a week later the test showed I had both antibodies and T-cell immunity, "Fedorova told The Daily Beast. "I still wear my mask in public places, but I can now meet my young students without much concern, which is important for my work."
Ivanov's laboratory has been conducting antibody tests looking for donors of convalescent plasma to treat severe COVID-19 cases since April. It participated in studies of persistence at the antibody level. "At the beginning of the pandemic, we learned what drug to use to treat severe symptoms of COVID-19, but now it is difficult to find these drugs in Moscow and in the regions in particular," she said. "That's why I would recommend Sputnik V, especially for people with potential risks."
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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