I don’t have the reputation of someone who stans for Russia’s record on dealing with Corona. I was writing about how Russian official statistics were massively understating Corona mortality more than a year ago, before Western journalists generally noticed it, and followed that theme up in the subsequent months. Ironically, Russia’s development of one of the world’s most effective vaccines, Sputnik V, which boasts an efficacy rate of >90% and has had as international adoption on a level equal to that of the Big Pharma solutions – despite assiduous efforts by the US State Department to torpedo it – has failed to translate into high vaccination rates.
As of the present time, Russia’s 11% vaccination rate lags far behind the Anglo-American (~50%) and EU (~30%) rate, and is comparable only to Bulgaria (11%) so far as EU countries ago, and Japan and South Korea in East Asia (8-11%), which however have been largely successful at containing Corona with traditional measures. China at 28% is far ahead (although Sinopharm has a lower efficacy rate), Brazil and Turkey are a bit ahead, and even India is level pegging. Serbia has been the undisputed star of the vaccination drive relative to its “non-aligned” and middle income status, leveraging Big Pharma, Russia, and China to get the best deal for its citizens. The provision of a choice between Pfizer, Sputnik V, and Sinopharm in Serbia has ensured high vaccination rates amongst all manner of nutjobs who make these kinds of decisions based on their geopolitical preferences.
So is this a resounding failure of the Putin regime?
It would be if this was indeed a failure of vaccome distribution. But I see very few signs that this has been a problem for months. I know that the elderly in Moscow have been getting calls from the clinics they are attached to for months, in which the nurses literally beg them to come in for a Sputnik V shot. If you don’t want to bother with your clinic, you can drop by any one of dozens of locations in shopping centers and parks in Moscow. All that is required is to provision your passport and you are eligible for a shot on the spot, no questions asked, with the results later appearing on Gosuslugi (the electronic state ID registrar) as a proof of vaccination. If you don’t like Sputnik V for whatever reason, you now get the choice of getting the Vector Institute’s EpiVacCorona instead. You even get a free ice cream for your trouble.
Corona vaccination point in GUM, the central shopping arcade by Red Square. Peeking inside, I noted that queues were non-existent.
And before the usual suspects pipe up that it is Moscow/Saint-Petersburg monopolizing all the vaccines, that is obviously not true either. It was an accurate rejoinder several months ago, but today, Moscow is in 33rd place by vaccination rate (!) across Russia’s regions. It is actually remote places like Chukotka and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug that have some of the highest rates, while many relatively poor regions like Belgorod oblast and Mordovia are also ahead of Moscow. Clearly, vaccination rates are no longer determined by distribution bottlenecks, but by regional policies and local populations’ relative level of anti-vax sentiment.
As such, dying from Corona in Russia is now “optional”, and in many regions, has already been so for months.
The core reason while vaccination rates remain low is now clearly dominated by the fact that the post-Soviet environment is one of the world’s most ideologically anti-vaxx. In anecdotal terms, this became clear to me when the same elderly person whom I know has been receiving calls from his/her clinic to get Sputnik V became convinced that it is a Putin plot to cull Russian pensioners (sic). This seems to be a common view amongst that demographic. Communists tend to be some of the most active anti-vaxx agitators in Russia, so it is morbidly amusing in a way how they are helping kill off what remains of their fading electorate. However, the anti-Putin liberals, who until a few months ago mounted a propaganda campaign against Sputnik V (either on instruction from their Western handlers, or because they feel an uncontrollable urge to smear and malign anything Russian, or possibly a combination of both), have certainly not helped matters either. While most of them ended up vaccinated with Sputnik V anyway – these people might be anti-Russian ideologues, but they are not stupid, and do like to travel with as few problems as possible – the consequences of their black PR campaign probably continue to residually influence those older Russians who are “slower” on the uptake and not wise to their tricks.
Be that as it may, though, there’s clearly a difference between being in the Corona demographic risk group and dying because you do not have access to a vaccine because of state distribution failure, and dying because you are too lazy, paranoid, and/or have had your brain destroyed by conspiracy theories to get vaccinated. These people’s obstinacy makes life modestly more uncomfortable than it has to be (e.g. I resent being vaccinated and still being formally obligated to wear a mask on the Metro and other public indoor places). But the key point is that to the extent they now die of Corona, it is now through their own conscious choices – that is, it is now more of a Darwin Award than a tragedy. If one is of a cynical disposition, one might even salute their unwitting sacrifice for the Russian budget and pensions system.