On Tuesday, the country registered nearly seven hundred forty coronavirus deaths within a twenty-four-hour span, a 13 percent increase from Saturday, which is being largely blamed on the more contagious Delta variant. In fact, Russia set new death records for five consecutive days last week, as that surge pushed hospitals and clinics to maximum capacity.
In all, Russia’s COVID-19 task force has confirmed nearly one hundred forty thousand coronavirus deaths throughout the pandemic.
Amid the quickly rising coronavirus cases, the government has ruled out the possibility of another nationwide economically crippling lockdown. In response, many regional leaders have had to come up and enforce their own rules, such as restricting eating at restaurants.
Some regions, including Moscow, which is considered the coronavirus epicenter in the country, have ordered compulsory vaccination for service workers. But still, among the general public, many Russians flatly refuse to take the Sputnik V vaccine, which Russia approved for emergency use last August.
The homegrown vaccine was initially blasted with international skepticism because officials decided not to wait for data from large-scale clinical trials. The shot, which relies on two delivered doses that utilize different inactive viruses, was fast-tracked for registration.
Recent estimates have about 18 percent of Russia’s population of nearly one hundred fifty million people has received at least one vaccine dose.
Much of that can be blamed on skepticism that is surrounding the vaccines and mixed messages from the government, some experts say. The polling agency Levada Center surveyed Russian attitudes about vaccination last spring and discovered that more than 60 percent did not intend to get a vaccine that is manufactured within the country.
“They fear side effects. They don’t trust vaccines in principle, or they want to wait and see what happens to other people first,” Denis Volkov, deputy director of the Levada Center, told the New York Times.
Alexei Levinson, a sociologist and senior researcher at the Levada Center, told the Agence France-Presse that “the Kremlin launched Sputnik as an ideological weapon without even waiting for the end of clinical trials.”
He noted that such events “greatly alerted Russians” who were already highly suspicious of the pharmaceutical industry in general. “The world for Russians has become hostile and uncomfortable,” Levinson added.
The Levada Center poll, which surveyed sixteen hundred individuals, also showed that 64 percent of respondents said that COVID-19 was artificially created and is, in fact, a “new form of biological weapon.”
About 23 percent of respondents said that they believe that the novel virus appeared “without human intervention.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.