President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he had received the domestically developed Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year, stressing the importance of getting vaccinated amid a surge of new coronavirus infections and deaths in Russia.
During an annual call-in show, Mr Putin voiced hope the immunisation drive could help avoid a nationwide lockdown.
Russia on Wednesday reported 21,042 new infections and 669 deaths — similar to numbers it has been reporting daily since June 24.
The number of reported deaths was a record for a single day for the country.
While reaffirming his position that vaccinations should be voluntary, Mr Putin emphasised that decisions by local authorities in regions across Russia that made shots mandatory for some workers should help contain the surge.
Those decisions were based on the law and “aimed at avoiding the need for a lockdown, when entire enterprises shut down and people are left without their jobs, without their salaries,” Mr Putin said.
Although Russia was among the first countries to announce and deploy a coronavirus vaccine, just over 23 million people — or 15% of its 146 million population — have received at least one shot.
Experts have blamed this on wariness of the rushed approval of the Russian-made vaccines and limited production capacity.
Mr Putin said that he initially did not identify the vaccine he received to avoid offering a competitive advantage to its maker.
“But I see that there are lots of questions,” the president said.
Mr Putin got his first shot in late March and his second in mid-April, both out of the public eye.
On Wednesday, Mr Putin said he had not consulted with his doctors “as much” about which vaccine to take but rather looked at what choices his acquaintances made.
He said he went for Sputnik V because it provided the longest protection out of the two jabs available to Russians at the time.
“Especially since our armed forces are being vaccinated with Sputnik V, and I’m the commander in chief, after all,” he said, chuckling.
Russia gave Sputnik V regulatory approval in August 2020, and it faced criticism at home and abroad because it had only been tested on a few dozen people at the time.
However, the criticism was blunted by a report in the British medical journal The Lancet this year that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91%.
Its one-dose version, Sputnik Light, received approval last month and was released into circulation earlier this month.
Two other Russian vaccines — EpiVacCorona and CoviVac — have also received regulatory approval before completing late-stage trials. No data on the efficacy of those two vaccines has been released, and Sputnik V remains the most widely used coronavirus vaccine in the country.
Mr Putin on Wednesday said all four Russian vaccines are “cutting-edge, safe and rather effective”.
Whether Russia will have enough vaccines to cope with a spike in demand remains unclear. Several regions have already reported shortages, but the Kremlin assured that those were merely temporary logistical difficulties.
Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov said on Tuesday that, to date, 36.7 million sets of all four domestically developed coronavirus vaccines have been released in Russia.
Amid the latest surge of cases, about 20 Russian regions — from Moscow and St Petersburg to the remote far-eastern region of Sakhalin — have made vaccinations mandatory this month for employees in certain sectors.
The move seemingly helped ramp up the immunisation drive in recent weeks but also elicited some pushback.
As of Monday, restaurants, bars and cafes in Moscow can only admit customers who have been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months or can provide a negative test in the previous 72 hours.
Customers must visit a government website and get a QR code, a digital pattern designed to be read by a scanner.
In one concession, city officials agreed that the QR codes are not needed for customers using outdoor terraces. Underage customers will not have to provide documentation if they are with their parents.
Small protests against mandatory vaccinations erupted in Moscow and the Sakhalin region this week.