While at the Park House shopping mall in northern Moscow, Vladimir Makarov saw it was offering the coronavirus vaccine to customers; so he asked how long it would take.
“It turned out it’s simple here — 10 minutes,” he said of his experience last month.
But Makarov, like many Muscovites, still decided to put off getting the Sputnik V shot.
Russia boasted last year of being the first in the world to authorize a coronavirus vaccine; but it now finds itself lagging in getting its population immunized.
That has cast doubt on whether authorities will reach their ambitious goal of vaccinating more than 30 million of the country’s 146 million people by mid-June and nearly 69 million by August.
The vaccine reluctance comes as shots are readily available in the capital to anyone 18; or older at more than 200 state and private clinics, shopping malls, food courts, hospitals — even a theater.
As of mid-April, over 1 million of Moscow’s 12.7 million residents, or about 8%; have received at least one shot, even though the campaign began in December.
That percentage is similar for Russia as a whole. Through April 27, only 12.1 million people have gotten at least one shot, and only 7.7 million, or 5%; have been fully vaccinated.
That puts Russia far behind the US; where 43% have gotten at least one shot and the European Union with nearly 27%.
Data analyst Alexander Dragan, who tracks vaccinations across Russia; said last week the country was giving shots to 200,000-205,000 people a day.
In order to hit the mid-June target, it needs to be nearly double that.
“We need to start vaccinating 370,000 people a day, like, beginning tomorrow;” Dragan told The Associated Press.
To boost demand, Moscow officials began offering coupons worth 1,000 rubles (USD 13) to those over 60 who get vaccinated; — not a small sum for those receiving monthly pensions of about 20,000 rubles (USD 260).
Still, it hasn’t generated much enthusiasm.
Some elderly Muscovites told AP it was difficult to register online for the coupons or find grocery stores that accepted them.
Other regions also are offering incentives.
Authorities in Chukotka, across the Bering Strait from Alaska; promised seniors 2,000 rubles for getting vaccinated; while the neighboring Magadan region offered 1,000 rubles.
A theater in St. Petersburg offered discounted tickets for those presenting a vaccination certificate.
Russia’s lagging vaccination rates hinge on several factors, including supply.
Russian drug makers have been slow to ramp up mass production, and there were shortages in March in many regions.
So far, only 28 million two-dose sets of all three vaccines available in Russia have been produced; with Sputnik V accounting for most of them, and only 17.4 million have been released into circulation after undergoing quality control.
Waiting lists for the shot remain long in places. In the Sverdlovsk region, the fifth most populous in Russia; 178,000 people were on a waitlist by mid-April, regional deputy health minister Yekaterina Yutyaeva told AP.
On April 28, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there are enough vaccines available in Russia; adding that demand was the defining factor in the country’s vaccination rate.
Another factor in Russians’ reluctance over Sputnik V was the fact that it was rolled out even as large-scale testing to ensure its safety and efficacy was still ongoing.
But a study published in February in the British medical journal The Lancet said the vaccine appeared safe and highly effective against Covid-19; according to a trial involving about 20,000 people in Russia.