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Putin pitches Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine but still won’t take it

Ilya Arkhipov

While Vladimir Putin this week hailed international recognition of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, the Kremlin says the president still hasn’t taken the inoculation that he enthusiastically recommends to other world leaders.

Putin is following a vaccination schedule that requires him to take other shots first, including against flu and pneumococcal infections, before he can decide to have Sputnik V, his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Friday on a conference call.

The president’s failure to take the vaccine against the deadly virus that killed more than 162,000 Russians last year is because “many vaccinations are not recommended at once,” Peskov said. “Vaccinations can’t be lumped together, they must be spread over time.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, congratulates Ivan Dedov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a specialist in applied and fundamental endocrinology, with his 80th birthday at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021.

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Putin told a government meeting Wednesday that peer-reviewed data published in The Lancet medical journal this month showing Sputnik V to be safe and with 91.6% efficacy “enhances the credibility of our vaccine.” He has championed Sputnik V at talks with other leaders since boasting in August that Russia had become the first nation in the world to clear a COVID-19 vaccine for use.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez and Guinea’s President Alpha Conde are among leaders who’ve received Sputnik V inoculations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Bolivian leader Luis Arce have also said they’re ready to take the vaccine after supplies were shipped to their countries.

Age, safety

The latest explanation for Putin’s inability to inoculate against COVID-19 follows a Dec. 17 statement by the 68-year-old president that he was waiting to get Sputnik V once it had been approved for people his age. After Russian regulators extended the safe age range for use of Sputnik V, the Kremlin indicated he was willing to take it.

In November, as Sputnik V was undergoing phase 3 trials to prove its safety, the Kremlin said Putin “can’t use an uncertified vaccine,” days after he’d recommended it at an online Group of 20 leaders summit and offered to supply it to “countries in need.”

Amid early skepticism, Russia has had increasing success in selling the vaccine around the world. Sputnik V has been approved for use in 27 countries now, Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a partner in the vaccine developed by the state-run Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, said on state TV Friday.

Russia’s now targeting the European Union as the bloc struggles with its vaccine rollout, saying an application for approval of Sputnik V was sent on Jan. 29, though the EU’s medicines regulator says no request for a rolling review has been received.

Slow take-up

Like Putin, many Russians are in no hurry to get an inoculation even as the president has declared Russia to be the only country in the world with three of its own vaccines against COVID-19. Domestic take-up of shots has been slow despite widespread availability.

Kommersant reported Thursday that Putin told a group of senior Russian journalists he would take the inoculation by the autumn. Peskov said this was inaccurate and that Putin had mentioned several options.

Peskov acknowledged that flu shots are normally offered to people in the autumn rather than in winter, but said the virus “is now going round all year.”

The president’s in “excellent” health and his vaccination program “is carried out in order to maintain this excellent health,” Peskov said.