By Stefan J. Bos
These are busy days for vaccination clinics in Moscow. There isn't much time as the nation has now the world's fourth-highest number of COVID-19 cases.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who pushed for the vaccine drive, acknowledged many Russians' suffering in a New Year's message. But he urged his nation to believe in a brighter 2021.
"I am convinced that together we will overcome everything. Establishing and restore normal life and with renewed vigor continue to solve the tasks facing Russia in the coming third decade of the 21st century," Putin said in a somber tone standing outside near the Kremlin in televised remarks.
As part of Putin-backed policies, health workers in Moscow are rushing to vaccinate senior citizens over 60 years old. Among them, pensioner Tatiana Vetrakova, who is 61. She claims that "taking the Sputnik V vaccine means that I can travel again. "
Trust in vaccine producers
Retiree Alexei Seleznev agreed. "I trust our producers, our experts who developed this vaccine. Moreover, those foreign investments confirm that this vaccine is credible."
The Russian Ministry of Health says the Sputnik-V vaccine has successfully passed clinical trials and proven its effectiveness and safety for people over 60.
But not everyone is convinced, with developers facing criticism for the speed and perceived lack of transparency. However, Russia's sovereign wealth fund RDIF, which finances the vaccine, vehemently denies these accusations.
And RDIF's chief executive officer Kirill Dmitriev is convinced more people will start to trust the Sputnik V vaccine than is currently the case. "We believe that as people see evidence that their neighbors have immunity, the numbers will increase. But lots of people want to get vaccinated in Russia. There is just a very negative narrative in some Western media trying to portray Russian vaccination. That is just done for geopolitical reasons, which is frankly highly unethical," he said, adding that Russia plans to save lives at home and abroad.
His company says more than 50 countries have made requests for more than 1.2 billion doses of Sputnik V.
Russia even sent 300,000 doses of the vaccine to Argentina last week, causing frustration at home. Some people argued that more shots should be made available in Russia first.
On Saturday, Russia reported more than 26,300 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking its total caseload to over 3,2 million. Authorities also said nearly 450 people had died in the past 24 hours, taking the official death toll to over 58,000.
Since New Year's Day, Russian officials say that people inoculated in Russia will get an electronic vaccination certificate.
The Sputnik V vaccine, which Russia already started supplying to other countries, is administered in two doses, which use different components, 21 days apart.
It will be sold to the international market at less than $10 per dose, competing with Western equivalents.