Vladimir Putin receives first dose of Russian-made Covid vaccine in private

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Russian president declines to have first dose in public after delaying jab for months

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin would not be vaccinated on camera, unlike other world leaders such as Boris Johnson and Joe Biden. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP
Vladimir Putin would not be vaccinated on camera, unlike other world leaders such as Boris Johnson and Joe Biden. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP
in Moscow

First published on Tue 23 Mar 2021 09.05 EDT

Vladimir Putin has received his first dose of a Russian-made coronavirus vaccine in private, his spokesman has confirmed, in an apparent effort to boost Russia’s fledgling vaccination drive after months of delaying his jab.

The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told news agencies late on Tuesday that the 68-year-old president had been vaccinated but did not specify which one of the three Russian-made vaccines was administered.

“Putin has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. He feels well. Tomorrow he has a full working day,” Peskov said.

He had earlier explained why Putin would not be getting vaccinated on camera and that journalists would have to “trust his word” that it had happened. “The president has already done a lot to popularise the vaccine,” Peskov said. “As to being vaccinated on camera, well he has never been a fan of that, he doesn’t like that.”

It was a peculiar description of a president who has regularly undressed on camera during summer holidays in Siberia, for a baptismal dip in an ice-cold pool in January, and even at medical checkups in the past.

The Kremlin decision to shroud Putin’s vaccination in secrecy is even odder considering the likely boost that Putin’s on-camera endorsement would have given to Russia’s vaccination drive.

As of this week, only 4.3% of Russians had received at least one dose of one of the country’s vaccines, predominately Sputnik V, which began mass distribution in December. In the UK, more than half the adult population have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and in the US 14% of the population have been fully vaccinated. Even in Germany, where the vaccine rollout has been viewed as a debacle, about 9% of the population have had at least one jab.

Russia’s vaccination rates have more resembled those in India and China, where a number of factors including infection rates, quarantine measures, different risk profiles and government distrust have kept vaccination rates below 5%.

Leaders of other countries including Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy have been vaccinated on camera to allay public concerns about the hastily developed vaccines. The highest-ranking official in Russia to have been vaccinated publicly is the defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.

Putin announced on Monday he was planning to be vaccinated, but took special care to make clear that vaccinations in Russia would remain voluntary. “Vaccination, of course, is a voluntary decision for every person. It is every person’s personal decision,” Putin said during a televised government meeting on Monday about Russian vaccines against Covid-19. “By the way, I plan to do this tomorrow.”

Russians’ resistance to vaccination is partly rooted in belief in conspiracy theories and in distrust of the Sputnik V jab.

More than 60% of Russians polled by the Levada Centre in February said they did not plan to be vaccinated, in many cases because of cold-like side-effects, and a similar figure said they believed that the coronavirus was an artificial bioweapon rather than a naturally occurring disease that broke out in a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year.

Russia has sought to wield Sputnik V as a tool for geopolitical influence in other countries. Putin has called for Russia to export its vaccine, and more than 40 countries have to some degree registered or approved Sputnik V for emergency use. More than 1.2bn doses of the vaccine have been ordered, raising questions about whether Russian production capacity is up to the task.

Two other domestic vaccines, EpiVacCorona and CoviVac, have also been approved for use in Russia. Peskov said the Kremlin was not releasing the name of the vaccine used to inoculate Putin in order to avoid favouritism. “We won’t tell you on purpose which vaccine exactly it will be. All three Russian vaccines are absolutely reliable. They’re very good, reliable and efficacious,” Peskov said.

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