Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout draws wary, mixed response

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A Russian medical worker administers a shot of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. While excitement and enthusiasm greeted the Western-developed coronavirus vaccine when it was rolled out, the Russian-made serum has received a mixed response, with reports of empty Moscow clinics in the first days of the rollout. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW – While excitement and enthusiasm greeted the Western-developed coronavirus vaccine when it was rolled out, the Russian-made version has received a mixed response, with reports of empty Moscow clinics that offered the shot to health care workers and teachers — the first members of the public designated to receive it.

Kremlin officials and state-controlled media touted the Sputnik V vaccine as a major achievement after it was approved Aug. 11. But among Russians, hope that the shot would reverse the course of the COVID-19 crisis has become mixed with wariness and skepticism, reflecting concerns about how it was rushed out while still in its late-stage testing to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Russia faced international criticism for approving a vaccine that hasn’t completed advanced trials among tens of thousands of people, and experts both at home and abroad warned against its wider use until the studies are completed.

Despite those warnings, authorities started offering it to certain high-risk groups, such as front-line medical workers, within weeks of approval. Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Institute that developed the vaccine, said last week over 150,000 Russians have gotten it.

One recipient was Dr. Alexander Zatsepin, an ICU specialist in Voronezh, a city 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Moscow, who received the vaccine in October.

“We’ve been working with COVID-19 patients since March, and every day when we come home, we worry about infecting our family members. So when some kind of opportunity to protect them and myself appeared, I thought it should be used,” he said.

But Zatsepin said he still takes precautions against infection because studies of the vaccine's effectiveness aren't over.

“There is no absolute confidence yet,” he said.