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Russia begins to vaccinate those most vulnerable or exposed to the covid-19 virus Russia begins to vaccinate those most vulnerable or exposed to the covid-19 virus  (AFP or licensors)

Russia launching coronavirus vaccine despite controversy

Russia becomes the first known country to launch a massive immunization effort against the coronavirus. Soldiers, medical workers, and teachers are among the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

By Stefan J. Bos

Troops in Russia's Southern Military District are already receiving the controversial Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Here in the district city of Vladikavkaz, a uniformed man tries to smile as nurses check his temperature, blood pressure, and lungs before he receives the jab.

He isn't alone. Russia's government says it plans to vaccinate more than 400,000 troops. Across this large land of 142 million people, authorities have begun offering the vaccine.

That also includes the capital of Moscow and its surroundings. Besides soldiers, medical workers and teachers are among the first to receive the Sputnik V injection. Teacher Zulfiya Sosnovskaya also got a vaccine.    "I did it firstly for my safety and the safety of people close to me. I used to not believe in the coronavirus's seriousness, and it regarded it as a fantasy or fraud until a person close to me got infected," she says.

 "So I decided to be the first in my family to get vaccinated. I want all of my family to get vaccinated as well," the teacher explains.  

 Developers say the vaccine is 95 percent effective and causes no significant side effects. Doctor Andrei Osipov of a hospital in the Moscow area agrees. He says they now begin vaccinating people of the general public. 

Vaccinations for those most at risk

"We have vaccinated several people who are older than 60. There have been no side effects. The vaccination goes on successfully," Doctor Osipov explains.

But critics counter that Sputnik V is still undergoing mass testing and say it was rushed through in the lucrative race for a vaccine.  

Last month, Hungary's plans to import and possibly use the Russian vaccine as one of the first nations outside Russia was condemned by the European Union. Its European Commission, the EU's executive, said it could raise safety concerns and damage trust in potential shots.

But in Russia, thousands of people have already registered to get the first of two jabs over the weekend. However, it is unclear how much Russia can manufacture.

Producers are only due to make two million doses of the vaccine by the end of the year, in time for Orthodox Christmas.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
05 December 2020, 18:37