Russia struggles to distribute its vaccine to the regions

 Russia struggles to distribute its vaccine to the regions

In Bryansk, a small city 400km south of Moscow, hospitals and clinics would love to follow president Vladimir Putin’s order that Russia’s Covid-19 inoculation programme must now move from “large scale” to “mass” vaccination.

But they just do not have the jabs.

“There are clinics here officially offering the vaccine that don’t actually vaccinate,” said Vadim, a doctor from the city who spoke to the Financial Times. “[The doctors] will tell you that right now we have no available vaccine because we have used them all up . . . But the vaccine was never available.”

While Russia’s government says 1.5m vaccines have been distributed and hundreds of thousands more doses are ready to be dispatched, doctors and officials from across the country describe a far bleaker reality of limited supplies and delayed shipments.

Russia has 3.5m Covid-19 cases, the world’s fourth highest tally, and this week has recorded around 23,000 new cases each day. 

The distribution shortcomings have further slowed vaccinations already held back by widespread wariness among Russians towards their state-developed jab. Just 38 per cent are willing to get the vaccine, according to a poll published last month by the Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster. 

Sputnik V, developed in a state-run lab, funded by the country’s sovereign wealth fund and endorsed by Mr Putin who approved it before it had even completed its trials, was designed to avoid the problems bedevilling other European governments which are competing with each other for vaccines manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, or squabbling over how to divide up pooled orders.

And while Moscow’s clinics have been busy vaccinating those who are willing, regions outside of the capital have struggled to secure adequate supplies, calling into question the ability of the government to meet Mr Putin’s demands.

On Wednesday President Vladimir Putin told ministers to “start mass vaccinations of the entire population” next week © Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via Reuters

In a cabinet meeting broadcast live on state television on Wednesday, the 68-year-old president, who has not yet been vaccinated, instructed ministers “to start mass vaccinations of the entire population as early as next week”.

Russian officials have said that 1.5m people have been vaccinated with Sputnik V worldwide, but declined to say how many are in Russia, a country of 144m. On January 5 the vaccine’s creator said 1m Russians had been inoculated. Official data is not publicly available: by law, statistics on coronavirus vaccinations are kept in a confidential database.

But data from individual regions and evidence from regional doctors suggests that Russia has vaccinated far fewer than hoped.

The region of Krasnoyarsk, a massive state in Siberia larger than Mexico, said this week it had received just 6,242 vaccine doses. That works out at one for every 450 residents. Leningrad region, which encircles St Petersburg, has been supplied one vaccine for every 395 residents. The region has just six clinics offering vaccination — Moscow boasts 100.

In Moscow, supplies of the Sputnik V vaccine to clinics have been strong © Sergei Savostyanov/TASS via Reuters

“On TV they say that they are vaccinating people somewhere in Siberia, school students in Moscow, teachers and medical personnel, members of government organisations, so to speak,” said Irina, a doctor in a hospital near Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“But no vaccine has been provided [here] so far and the hospital authorities haven’t told us anything,” she told the FT. “When asked [our bosses] answer that they don’t know anything, there is no vaccine available and no understanding of when the vaccine will be sent.”

Tatiana Golikova, Russia’s deputy prime minister who is leading the government’s coronavirus response, told Mr Putin that mass vaccinations would begin next week, and that 600,000 more doses would be made available by the end of the month, to take the total number of jabs distributed to 2.1m.

“The work on increasing production and supply to the regions will continue,” she added.

Deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova is leading Russia’s coronavirus response © Alamy

Regional doctors have also voiced anger at a string of proclamations by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which financed Sputnik V and is managing its export sales, about pledges to supply countries like Serbia, Brazil and Bolivia with millions of doses, even as clinics outside of Moscow go without.

“Of course, you should first worry about your own people and vaccinate them before helping others,” said Irina. RDIF did not respond to questions from the FT regarding Sputnik V’s distribution.

In Moscow, where supplies to clinics have been strong, the city has taken to repeatedly widening the scope of people who can receive the vaccine, in a bid to drive up the number of those vaccinated. Moscow’s mayor said on January 1 that 50,000 of the capital’s residents had been vaccinated, and that he expected to see that total rise by 10,000 each day. Moscow’s population is around 14m.

At a handful of clinics in the centre of the city visited by the FT this week that were offering vaccinations, waiting rooms were bustling with a dozen or so people. There were no queues outside and patients were able to walk in without appointments.

Pavel, a 61-year-old retiree, waited for just half an hour in the city’s Polyclinic 46 after having his documents checked, before embarking on the three-minute-long consultation and vaccination.

“It was very easy, very simple,” he said, as a man emerged from a vaccination room clutching a certificate. “Everyone can get it.”

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